Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Dishonorable Rule

I'm trying to make sense out of what's happening to the way Malaysia is floundering in recent years. Why is the Malay centric government dominated by UMNO trying desperately and dishonorably to force themselves onto all citizens the concept of Ketuanan Melayu or Malay Supremacy in this nation. I'm reminded of what Adolf Hitler tried to create, a superior German race, but UMNO is no Hitler and the Malays are not Germans, and most certainly Malaysia is not Germany. Even without Hitler Germany would still be an advanced and industrial nation. The Germans made it so through their desire to learn and improve themselves. We have Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and Volkswagens in Malaysia but no Protons or Peroduas in Germany. This isn't to belittle my country or my people. It is after all a young nation barely 57 years old. And we are in a hurry to join the big league of developed nations. By 2020 we hope to be there but signs and symptoms say we won't. Where we are today can be blamed squarely upon the manner the UMNO government is leading us using its racist approach and a policy of suppression of the minority races and preferential treatment of the Malays to the extent that it has severely damaged inter-racial harmony and weakened the Malays to stand up against competition without an unsubsidized mentality. In holding on to power the UMNO government sought popular support by pandering to emotion rather than reasons. They have no firm principles of governance and government except of playing to the gallery. And watching from their ivory tower they saw how the Malay Supremacy is fast becoming a joke. To be supreme one has to be strong and respected. But sadly this isn't true of UMNO which led the Malays into where they are today. Feeling left behind and weak the UMNO government tries to champion the race to restore what they never had because the Malays were never tried, tested and tuned to be successful in their own right. Blame it on UMNO for spoon feeding the Malays, and enriching themselves in the process, the Malays have become scorned as a people who cannot survive unless helped.

Yet watching at how other nations where the majority race rule their respective countries, the UMNO government is unhappy that Malaysia is not Malaynized. The UMNO government shamelessly support and encourage anti-Chinese and anti-Indian sentiments obviously seditious but will not tolerate criticism of the manner non-Malays are being treated unequally although we are all citizens, majority of whom are born after the nation achieved independence in 1957. The Malays would have become successful and respected if only they are thrusted towards self reliance. Sadly many chose to live under the false security of preferential treatment and had grown so accustomed to it that they, including the new generation Malays, decided it is their right.

After over 40 years of legalized handouts the Malays have become a race that will find it very difficult to survive on its own. I've seen Malay townships not prospering because they market their products and services to themselves. Now as we reach the end of 2013 we're not seeing any efforts made to strengthen the Malay position. They are still shouting Malay Supremacy and Islamization of the country. Frankly I would like my fellow Malay citizens to be modernized to be knowledgeable and competent to stand shoulder to shoulder to the Chinese and Indians as well as against foreign companies.

How do you deal with a country led by a weakened race because the ruling government planned it that way and the people chose not to stand up and reject a corrupt government? They should have used the May 5 general election to boot out the BN government but fell for the cash subsidies and promises of more good life which will not materialise. The BN government have reneged on its promises not to increase toll but rather reduce intra city toll.

2014 is going to be tough and the average citizens are going to be very angry. Sugar subsidy was fully removed immediately after the 2014 Budget Speech on October 25. Fuel subsidy which was partially removed by 20 sen per litre on September 2 is likely to be removed further next year as the government seek additional taxes to reduce its budget deficits. Electricity tariff is confirmed to increase by about 15% from January 1, 2014 to households and businesses with the smaller consumers exempted. Toll rates in the Klang Valley, Selangor will increase by between 50 sen and RM2 sometime next year affecting some 3 million road users, private and commercial. Toll rate on the North South Highway may similarly increase. Property owners in Kuala Lumpur has already been slapped with increase in assessments based on inflated property values. This trend is likely to be emulated by other town and city councils across the nation. The immediate effect will be a sharp increase in cost of goods especially food, transport, drugs, demand for better salaries or cost of living allowance, and education.

All these sudden increases suggest a desperate and knee jerk reaction by the government to reign in its ballooning deficit that has raised our nation debt to 53% of the GDP. Malaysia produced USD303.5 billion worth of GDP so this means we are in debt to some USD160 billion. For a small population of 29 million it translate to an average individual debt of USD5517 or RM17,600. How did we ever come to this when we have so much natural resources if not for gross mismanagement and illegal fund outflow which Malaysiakini reported HERE that RM200 billion was siphoned out in 2010 alone, which more than double that of 2009 and the highest on record. We have no information for 2011 and 2012 but I don't expect the numbers to be lower. If not for such massive outflows we would not be owing money but be a net lender instead. I'm sure many powerful and well-connected cronies will be in jail if we have a just law enforecement and fearless judiciary. The BN government must be held accountable to what is happening under its watch.

 I do not foreseee a good year in 2014 with a deterioration in standard of living as people try to contain expenditures by spending on lower quality food, products and services. Yet I will still wish my readers both from Malaysia and overseas a very happy New Year 2014. May we have the resilience to overcome the odds and come out victorious.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Dirty Word That Starts to Worry Me/Us

I'm referring to the bankrupt word. I first heard of it as a schoolboy and the connotation was bad. Then I knew it only associate with people, not organizations or governments. Bankrupts were shameful people who fell into the same category as criminals. They had done wrong in principle and had to be punished by the courts to be labeled as such. They carried social stigmas that not only hurt their own reputations but also their families's. I felt pity for children whose fathers were made bankrupt. Responsible people who were made bankrupt tend to go into hiding and avoided friends because the shame was unbearable. They had their rights to property ownership denied or taken away and had to live on minimal living standard as they tried to repay their debts. And this was what I observed - people tried to stay away from bankrupts as if they were lepers. Not only had they been declared social outcasts by the courts, the public too had added more injuries to their lives. How embarrassing it was to be a bankrupt in those days.

But nowadays it seems people no longer feel remorse for mismanaging their financial debts that they are taken to courts by their creditors for defaulting their loan repayments. It has become acceptable even fashionable to become bankrupts. These people are also morally bankrupt and this, may I add, precedes financial bankruptcy. Has they been responsible and upright they would be careful not to bite more than they can chew. To such, taking away money borrowed and not making timely repayments is a repugnant act of abuse of trust. While there are honest bankrupts, by whom I mean those who couldn't help it and are declared due to business failures caused by unforeseen circumstances, there are now more and more people who consider it not wrong to become bankrupts. On top of it they are even proud and feel no loss in social status when they are made to be bankrupt. They consider it a convenient way to become irresponsible and couldn't be bothered what the world think of them.

But this is not my concern. My neighbor being a bankrupt, say, has no effect upon me, apart from perhaps a likelihood of being occasionally disturbed to give him money. But it is both a worry and an angry and annoying reaction should my government becomes insolvent. A nice word to explain an inability to repay its debts. Governments will not become bankrupt but they will take the citizens towards hard times. Currencies will devalue, cost of living spiral, crime rates go up, the people becomes disenchanted with their lives and the general mood of the nation turns negative. There will be stronger tendencies of citizen protests and at the very worst, the government will be overthrown with strong possibilities of injuries and bloodshed, even deaths. 

Now being in debt is not wrong. All of us at one time or another owe either the bank or someone money we borrowed for a purpose, typically to buy a house or a car, or for those venturing out, to start a business. But we would over the years painstakingly pay off our debts with interest to honor what trust the lenders had in us. The problem with borrowing is often the attitude that we use the money to gamble, money that doesn't belong to us, so if the gamble fails, well, to deal with the consequence as it arise. In other words, borrowers consider being in debt as an opportunistic venture and lenders abetted them in the hope that they succeed so both parties can win. But we have seen how financial institutions collapsed when borrowers could not repay their installments due to economic recessions, job loss or over exposure of their assets which then are taken over to be auctioned to recover the debt. And lately several governments have chosen to risk the future of their citizens by undertaking risky investments that give them opportunities to receive bribes. Trust in government has reached very low which explains why so many countries change governments as often as diapers. They are lucky to have democratic process in place with constitutionally upright police, military and judiciary to check on the excesses of the ruling parties and bring them to court to be charged, jailed and even executed. But some are in precarious state where these check and balance machinery instead abet the offenders, even the anti corruption agency supposedly to prosecute the guilty persons lack any bite to do anything.

I won't mention names but we don't have a system in which citizen concerns are seriously and fairly addressed and acted upon. Such a system will quickly accelerate the decline of the nation. I've never lived in a worse administration where abuses are blatantly protected. When the heads set such examples how can we expect the subordinates to do otherwise? There is a bad vibe in the air. Electricity tariff will be increased soon as gasoline had recently. What follow will be increases of related costs on food, services and essential goods. The government had served notice - come April 2015 the public will be taxed on what they consume. The GST will become a new burden without an adjusted reduction in personal tax for the ordinary folks. The GST will be another way to collect more taxes and the prime minister cleverly tells gullible citizens that paying them means patriotism. How stupid an argument can this be? Even a kid can tell you that it means the government is a poor manager of public funds and all the taxes it collect over the years to have to resort to squeezing more.

Tax is dirty but if well spent to bring welfare to the general public it will not be burdensome. But to force more taxes while the politicians raise their own salaries and live grandiose lifestyles, you be the judge if the prime minister is believable and credible. The path he leads the nation down is the path he laid, and he alone will be held responsible for the outcome of our future.


Thursday, November 07, 2013

My Personal Cloud

Nick sounded approachable the first time I spoke with him about Synology. Most IT dealers I spoke to were blur about this brand of NAS (network attached storage) which has a far better consumer rating than the Buffalo brand. By consumer I mean home users. I don't know about business users who require a bigger and faster storage. The key concern is reliability which Synology scored good points. Nick is in network solution so knows what I want, and I clearly want the DS-213j model which has 2 bays for the hard disks. After much Internet research and comparison this model came up very well reviewed. Google it in Amazon to read about it. I decided to go along with Nick although his offer is pricier than another source. I guess personal touch and having a real physical store help boost customer confidence. In spite of the hype about its reliability you can never be sure that you won't need technical or warranty support one day.

The DS-213j was set up on Oct 21 to become my personal cloud. It has 2x1Tb WD red caviar HDD set on RAID 1 array where an exact copy (or mirror) of a set of data are stored on both disks. This is useful when read performance or reliability is more important than data storage capacity. In the event of failure in one disk, the data is still intact on the second. RAID 1 is a very popular and common configuration in network storage.

For the DS-213j or DiskStation to operate optimally data transfer speed at 1000Mbps or gigabit is recommended and using cat 5e or cat 6 Ethernet cable required. My existing Dlink DSL-2640B modem router cannot provide this output as it has only 10/100Mbps LAN ports. Its wireless speed is also slow at 54Mbps. In searching for a better modem router I found and bought the TPLink TD-W8970 300Mbps wireless N gigabit ADSL2+ modem router that fits the requirement. The Dlink retired to become a LAN switch for the PC and printer for wired network access and printing.

I took my cloud project a little further so it become an integrated digital library cum entertainment centre. To protect it from power failure and surges I installed the Prolink PRO850VU UPS with AVR to stabilize input power supply and provide emergency power backup in the event of power failure. The wiring layout is tidied up to make it appear neater. The next steps to complete this love project are to attach my USB hard disk containing movies to the DiskStation to enable watching them on all my portable devices including smartphone on my home wifi network. And finally to instal a Foscam surveillance camera for added security.

I'm still in the learning curve and through this month long period I picked up useful technical knowledge that makes me appreciate this project even more. It cost me a little over RM2000 or about USD650 for all the equipment. I have my son-in-law who is very knowledgeable in setting up IT equipment to thank for configuring the modem routers and switch to enhance privacy and security, and my son for technical advice and feedbacks. I'm starting to enjoy years of accumulated music, photos and home videos of my grandchildren and our family outings and holidays beside having a place for my data accessible 24/7 anywhere, anytime. Who says retirement is boring?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Another Successful Fund Raiser Concluded

Like in an examination I heaved a sigh of relief after last Saturday's fund raising dinner ended with us raising over RM60,000 for the Persatuan Berdikari Seremban Negeri Sembilan or PBSNS which I head. A small task force started meeting as early as February this year to choose the venue, decide on the performer to approach and the guest of honor to invite. We tossed the idea of inviting a politically connected leader but eventually abandoned it. After 8 meetings the four of us are proud of our achievement. And we know that we have been blessed by God in this endeavor.

Looking back I cannot deny there were moments of doubts and disappointments being unsure if we can match left alone exceed the target of our first fund raising effort in December 2010. I actually approached the preparation with less excitement than I should have, being disillusioned by lack of initial team spirit. People who were zealous in the beginning fired up but extinguished out early revealing their true colors and their lack of genuine passion for this community work. They could not put aside their personal differences to thrive for the goal of helping the centre grow. But those who stayed united can be assured that their efforts will be remembered here and recognized in the hereafter for the work of PBSNS though fashioned by hands and the planned by human minds is surely confirmed and blessed by God. It is built not to profit anyone but to benefit those who truly need our help to start a new life. Nothing in life is more noble than to put ourselves in service of those who are handicapped and need us.

The responses to our appeal were lukewarm in the early months and that I can associate with the local culture of not committing until the last moment. It bored out to be true because barely 2 weeks before the event we thought we would achieve just 50-51 tables. However, like runners dashing towards the finishing line, 6 more tables were sold in the closing days. Finally we hit 57 tables, just one short of the 2010 raiser. But an unaudited count of the proceeds showed we have exceeded what we obtained in 2010. I couldn't be happier but had wished for a united and exuberant spirit from those who did not stay through the preparatory months. They could have felt recognized by their contributions.

PBSNS raised funds to cover their operating expenses. It is seeking suitable candidates to fill 2 vacancies as job placement officer and project trainer.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Battle Over Allah

We are a weird nation when it comes to religion. It is not free and the state has come to own the right to control how its people decide their God. It is definitely an intrusion into the rights and privacy as far as Islam is concerned. No Muslim of Malaysian citizenship is truly free to come and go. And if you convert in, it is very very hard to convert out. There are hurdles, obstacles and implications on inheritance and property sharing. 

The same cannot be said of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and other religions. There is freedom of choice. So why is Islam, or shall I say, Malaysian version of Islam different? I don't know of any other country where you are a Muslim for life and your children automatically Muslim and none may convert out. I want to suggest that Islam has been hijacked and politicized by the ruling government to perpetuate their rule over the people, especially the Malay people who are all Muslims by law. Very few Malays succeeded in converting out when they felt they want to practice another faith, and some migrate to other countries without such restrictions. Strangely, Indonesia being the largest Islamic nation in the world does not impose religious control on her citizens and there is freedom of choice. I feel Indonesia is more democratic in this respect. Although there are church bombings there, much more than in Malaysia they were carried out by those who dislike Christianity. But the Indonesian government certainly did not clamp religious freedom like the BN government here. And the lid is about to blow.

Malaysia has a predominant Muslim population, some 60+% with Christians taking up 9-10% and the rest Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. The cabinet is predominantly Muslim too and we have a Muslim prime minister. The welfare of the minority religions are seldom provided until appealed. The government seems to think they owe it to propagate and defend Islam. It has undertaken roles it is not supposed to perform. It has interfered into the lives of every Malaysian and stirs up dangerous religious sentiments that risk going out of control if not pacified.

The Allah issue is not new. It had simmered for more than 10 years. The official reason for banning Christians from referring to their God as Allah too is that it has created confusion amongst the Muslims. Has it? Was there a survey? Or is it merely an excuse to champion Islam for the Malays at the expenses of annoying the defenseless minorities? Truth is a government shouldn't take side. Its tenure is to administer the nation during its term as best as possible. But if the government after it has been elected into power continues to play politics instead of settling down to manage the economy and welfare of its people, and uses religion to instil division and hatred, then it has exceeded its mandate. The people must not tolerate a government that is divisive and not attend to pressing problems like rising crime rates, unrepressed corruption, high cost of living, declining standard of living and poor delivery of education.

The Catholic weekly newsletter for internal circulation, the Herald, was banned from referring to the Christian God as Allah in its Malay edition. Four years ago the High Court lifted the ban but recently the Appeal Court reinstated it creating new rounds of furore. Readers need to know that English speaking Christians don't use Allah for God. Only the indigenous people who don't speak English and are Christians refer to God as Allah, which has been evidenced from historical records as a term that pre-dated Islam. In other word Allah doesn't belong to Islam. It was a word used in the Middle East to mean god and is also used in the Quran. And no country apart from Malaysia stops others from referring to Allah as their god, so why are we so insistent? Is the government afraid of many Muslims leaving their faith? To deny the indigenous Christians their rights to continue worshipping God using Allah is unconstitutional. Allah doesn't belong to the Malays.

So why is the government, and the non-independent judiciary, so biased and defensive towards Islam? Many observers felt Islam has become a political tool to foster unity among the Muslims. Nothing wrong to say that Muslims will do all they can to strengthen their followership, but when the government interferes, and the judges take the cue how to deliver their verdicts, then we are heading into untested and very dangerous territory. Much damage has been done with encouraging the extremist elements. We must steer back to the moderate path that provide peace, stability and harmony of living together that all Malaysians aspire for themselves and their children. Goodwill is very lacking, all because the government is more concerned with their political survival and pander to using mass emotion to drum up its support. Sad and shameful.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Little Blu-ray Media Player

Sometime early September my bank's CRM told me to pick a gift using the free voucher I've earned. Having most of the electronic gadgets I decided to look for something that will fill the gap. The Samsung Blu-ray DVD player caught my attention only because it has Internet connectivity. With that it can transform my 4 year plus LCD TV into a smart TV. It happened I already have an Ethernet cable pulled to my entertainment centre from the router. So using the credit from the voucher I paid a small sum of RM50 to get the player. Before that I researched its features and was pleased that it is DLNA certified. By that is means it is able to detect through the common wired or wireless network other similarly certified (otherwise enabled by installing proprietary softwares) devices to be able to play multimedia files from them. This means one is not tied down to be sitting before the PC monitor but be able to share pictures, videos and music stored in the computer to the living room and other devices, including smartphones, giving greater access to a larger audience. I felt excited by what this little baby can do.

What makes this network media player really interesting is it can pull Youtube broadcasts, news, Facebook and other documentaries from the Internet onto the big screen. Because it connects using the HDMI cable to the TV the digital signals are clearer and sharper. The only bottleneck is the bandwidth of the Internet connection. With my 4Mbps Streamyx service it delivers the video downloads without much buffering.

This little baby helps me appreciate what wireless network can do. But because my PC must be switched on and the DLNA program launched to allow it to be 'seen' in the network by the Samsung. I'm not in the habit of leaving the PC running 24/7 because I believe in resting it to extend its service life. My next project will ensure my multimedia files can be accessed 24/7 and not only across my home network but also, if necessary, on the Internet anywhere around the world where it is available. The project is the NAS or Network Attached Storage. In contention are Buffalo and Synology with the latter under serious consideration.


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Bathroom Hazards

I caught up with an old acquaintance in my recent Eastern Europe holiday. 40 years ago I met him in Kluang, Johore, when as a green graduate I was posted to his factory for training, not under him but his former colleague in charge of research and development. I was saddened to learn of the demise of my mentor Shum which was the direct result of a fall in his bathroom several years ago. He had fractured his hip and never recovered since and died a few years later from complications resulting from that unfortunate incident. Could it have been avoided? I believe so.

I stayed in 6 different luxury hotels in E. Europe and every one of them was equipped with long bath. Only one has a shower cabinet. None except the hotel that provided shower cabinet provided anti-slip mats for the long bath. Maybe these hotels expected their guests to bath, and not shower standing up inside the bath. That I'd say is most presumptuous since their guests come from all over the world and not everyone bath lying down. Now, I may be wrong but I think long bath is the western thingy. They like to lie for a long time, soak up and truly enjoy the privacy and pleasure of bathing. For travelers in a hurry I think they don't have the luxury of hogging the bath, especially if the husband is screaming it is about time the wife give up the bath to him.

There are several bathroom hazards I can think of but on top of my head is slipping while standing up to shower in the long bath. Every long bath must be designed with an anti-slip floor mosaic to provide some foot grip especially after applying the shower gel or hair shampoo. Otherwise an anti-slip rubber mat is absolutely necessary. A fall can cause a minor head concussion which may cause hemorrhage unknown to the victim, or a fracture like what happened to poor Mr. Shum, or abrasion or cut leading to bleeding. Or it could cause unconsciousness, even death if no one discover the accident.

Other hazards are scalding from the hot water shower head due to unfamiliarity of usage, slipping on the bathroom floor and getting cut by toilet paper holder (yessss, I nearly did from the sharp edge of the stainless steel flap).

Senior people are most vulnerable especially having to climb over the long bath and climb out. If they forgot to pre-lay the floor towel and try to grab it to lay an accident is in the making. With more senior people buying tour packages hotel industry hospitality and safety people must review how to not only make their guests have pleasant stay but stay out of possibly mishaps. Please remember Asians treat long baths as shower room because we seldom lie down. Even if we do please ensure we have strong grab holders to lift ourselves up, safely.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Enchanting Eastern Europe - Prague/Czech Republic

Sadly our holiday will be ending with this last destination. On September 21 morning after enjoying our second breakfast at the Sheraton we returned our door cards to the reception, checked that our baggages had been brought down from outside our room door by the porters and witnessed they are loaded into the storage bay under the coach by our driver. We can never be too careful on such a tour as any loss cannot be easily traced and recovery will take time and likely to be expensive. The routine of packing, locking and carrying the heavy bags out had been set over the past 9 days. We've decided not to buy any souvenirs except some chocolates so our bags were not overloaded. More of converting new and unused clothings into worn clothings to be taken home to wash.

Our trip from Kakrow westward into Prague took us firstly into the city of Olomouc where we stopped for lunch. This beautiful city lies beside the Morava River in central Moravia. With around 100,000 inhabitants, it is the fifth largest city in the Czech Republic and certainly one of the most charming. In 2000, the Holy Trinity Column, which was erected in the early 18th century, was added as a UNESCO World Heritage site. And this is where we visited after lunch at the Hotel Flora. Either my appetite was extra good or the food was really good and I enjoyed every morsel, with a bottle of the famous Czech beer from Pilsner Urquell that we will be paying a visit tomorrow.

















We arrived Prague at 6.45pm and proceeded to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. Throughout this tour the travel agency provided a combination of both Chinese and western meals. The Chinese food were surprisingly quite good as very few of the group complained but for the western food the typical complaint was they are too salty. Perhaps we had subconsciously sensitized our taste buds by using less salt in our home cooking but for the westerners salt is used for preservation of the food we ate regularly in their restaurants.

The last hotel we stay on this hotel, the Hilton Prague, certainly outdid the rest. It is the only hotel that provided shower cubicle in the bathroom, bathrobs (which we did not use) and anti-slip mat for the long bath (very thoughtful and must be made mandatory to minimize ang chance of bathroom falls). As expected travel agencies usually plan their tours to peak the values towards the end so that their clients can take home the best possible memories. There was even a digital bathroom scale which I weighed myself and was horrified to find I've added on at least 4kgs over the past 10 days or so. I promised myself that when I get home I must go on some diet and increase my morning walking frequencies.

















The following morning we visited the Urquell brewery and learned how beer is made (you can read more HERE). We were allowed to drink the unfiltered and uncarbonated beer from the vat it was stored. It tasted cold and nice but not as nice as that I drank off the bottle yesterday. Pilsner Urquell is a bottom-fermented beer produced since 1842 in Pilsen, part of today's Czech Republic. Pilsner Urquell was the first pilsner beer in the world. Today it is a prominent brand of the global brewing empire SABMiller, a multinational brewing and beverage company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. It is the world's second-largest brewer measured by revenues (after Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer with nearly 25 percent global market).

















In the afternoon we were given a guided tour of the Prague Castle by Martina, a lanky local guide. This castle is said to be the biggest castle in the world at about 570 meters in length and an average of about 130 meters wide. Its history stretches back to the 9th century. St Vitus Cathedral is located within the castle area. Following that we sightsee the Old Town Square (looks like everywhere we go this is a common area to go). Eastern Europe minus its history is probably an empty shell.






















One highlight of the tour is to visit, perhaps walk on the famous Charles Bridge but it was not to be as some of the tour members were too tired walking the entire afternoon. Here is some interesting history of this old bridge.

The Charles Bridge is arguably the most beautiful gothic bridge in the world. Commissioned by King Charles IV, Holy Roman Emporer and King of Bohemia, the bridge has served as an essential link between Prague’s Old Town and the Lesser Quarter and Prague Castle, for hundreds of years. Every day the Charles Bridge welcomes thousands of visitors, who can experience magnificent views from this ancient landmark. By day, the bridge is a lively attraction, lined with many vendors, traders, artists and musicians. By night, the Charles Bridge has fewer visitors, but the views are arguably more spectacular.

(Source: http://www.private-prague-guide.com/article/charles-bridge/)

The Charles Bridge is a famous historic bridge that crosses the Vltava river in Prague, Czech Republic. Its construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and finished in the beginning of the 15th century. The bridge is 621 m long and nearly 10 m wide, resting on 16 arches shielded by ice guards. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Charles Bridge saw a steep rise of heavy traffic. The last day of the horse line on the bridge was 15 May 1905, when it was replaced with an electric tram and later, in 1908, with buses. At the end of World War II, a barricade was built in the Old Town bridge tower gateway. A capital repair of the bridge took place between 1965 and 1978, based on a collaboration among various scientific and cultural institutes. The stability of the pillars was reassured, all broken stone blocks were replaced, and the asphalt top was removed. All vehicular traffic has been excluded from the Charles Bridge since then, making it accessible by pedestrians only.

(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_bridge)










Photo Credit: http://www.private-prague-guide.com/article/charles-bridge/

















Photo Credit: http://www.all-free-photos.com/show/showphoto.php?idph=PI2798

Our holiday officially ended on September 23 when we checked out of the hotel at noon and were driven to the Prague International Airport to catch our flights back to Kuala Lumpur via Dubai. In spite of the rain and the expected fatigue and body aches we did thoroughly enjoyed this fantastic holiday. It wasn't perfect but then again, what is perfect in life? Eastern Europe will always hold a place in our hearts.

Enchanting Eastern Europe - Krakow/Poland

We have already crossed the halfway mark of our holiday - visited 4 countries and stayed in 4 hotels. Today, September 19, is just a traveling day and we spent about 6 hours on the road from Budapest to Kakrow in Poland travesing northward through Slovakia and stopping in Banska Bystrica for lunch and toilet break. We arrived the Kakrow at 6pm and proceeded for dinner before we checked in to the 5-star Sheraton Kakrow to stay for 2 nights. These 5-star hotels provide only free wifi in the lobby areas but not inside the rooms and even then the speed is slow. Those of us in the group numbering about 15 who wants to stay in touch with families and friends on the internet are often frustrated by slow speeds and at times inability of their devices to detect free wifi services especially in public areas away from the hotels, like in the city or rest area. I was very proud of my HTC One smartphone which quickly picked up wifi broadcasts, open and secured. Picking the open channel with the strongest signal I usually succeeded in connecting to the Internet and update my Facebook status and my family. The other great feature of the HTC One is the responsiveness of its camera. Within 10 seconds of fishing it out of my pocket I could be taking photos. And if necessary take panoramic ones as well. Several pictures I shared on these holidays are taken from the HTC One.

The next day we visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine which is one of the world's oldest working salt mines. The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 metres (1,073 ft) and is over 287 kilometres (178 mi) long. The rock salt is naturally gray in various shades, resembling unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look that many visitors may expect. A wooden staircase with 378 steps provides access to the mine's 64-meter (210-foot) level. A 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) tour features corridors, chapels, statues, and underground lake, 135 metres (443 ft) underground. An elevator returns visitors to the surface; the elevator holds 36 persons (nine per car) and takes some 30 seconds to make the trip.

Each visitor was provided a wireless receiver tuned to a common channel to track the narration by our local guide Joanna who warned those who feel claustrophobic to either stay out or be mentally prepared. Thankfully no one in our group felt any quiziness as the vastness of the mine, like the Postojna Cave in Slovenia, quickly make anyone feel comfortable. I paid 2.50 Euros for a sticker to authorize me to take pictures and videos while in the mine.

















In the afternoon we visited the Wawel Hill on the left bank of the Vistula River. The hill consisted of a complex of many buildings and fortifications; the largest and best known of these are Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral which is the Basilica of St Stanisław and St Wacław. The Wawel Cathedral was not only a place of coronation for the Kings of Poland, but also their mausoleum. Later, it became a national pantheon. The Wawel Royal Castle served as a royal residence and the site where the country's rulers governed Poland for five centuries (1038-1596). It is a symbol of the independent Polish state and today contains a priceless collection of 16th-century Flemish tapestries, considered to be one of the largest in the world.

















Below are scences from the Old Town Square when we hung out before dinner.

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