Friday, December 31, 2004

First To BATA, Then To School

It's the last day of the year. In the new year, I shall be back to the same school, but with a brand new class to call my own.

Humans exchange the better part of their life for the dream to indulge their thereafter beaten bodies in the seemingly-well-deserved material luxuries.

Yet thankfully, there are some who seek justification for celebration and partying – such as the eves of Christmas or New Year’s Day. The eves have the greatest people-gathering, adrenalin-fuelling and according to the papers today, hormone-energizing effect because of that celebrated countdown from one moment to the next which seems oh so significant because the first second of the following day has been made special to the people both by tradition and commerce.

Sans the cynicism, I rejoice in the existence of a New Year’s Day. A holiday is a great way to open a new year. I suppose we all need markings in time. The title “new year” pushes for some kind of new beginning: whether it be a financial one (e.g. fiscal year, paying the year’s income tax, annual insurance premiums etc.), a new year by status (e.g. going from Primary 1 to 2) or usually more significantly, an occasion for reflection on the past 12 months and a reason to embark on what should have been done in the instant the decision to have it done was made. (e.g. it doesn’t take a new year to allow someone to discard rotten habits).
The concept of having “new” year resolutions is necessary to humans. It is something like religion. I think it was Nietzsche or one of those wise guys who said, “If there wasn’t a God, it would be necessary to create one.”

Anyway, I don’t have any. Actually I do have one, but it is too embarrassing and private to discuss openly. Come to think of it, though I say I don’t have any new year resolutions, in actual fact I do have some inkling of it. While I don’t have my list in black and white, or even a semblance of a single resolution in my head, I have unwittingly joined the human masses in celebrating a new beginning, albeit quietly.
It's the last day of the year. In the new year, I shall be back to the same
school, but with a brand new class to call my own.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Penang - Food, Shopping & A Wedding

I apologise for having appeared to be on a blog vacation for so long. During the month of December, I was in 3 different parts of Malaysia in 3 separate trips for 3 different reasons. The first trip to KL was strictly for retail therapy, the next one to Kulai (somewhere off Johor) was for my church's family retreat and the final one to Penang (a turtle-shape island) was for my cousin's wedding.

In between the 3 trips were a couple of weekdays which I spent unpacking and rushing the clothes for wash, repacking, vacuuming and mopping the week's worth of dirt and grime on the floor and catching up with Ly (for the two trips he wasn't with me).

I think I've chased away my readers with my unbecoming long lulls of inactivity. Come back, come back! I finally have something blogworthy.

I hope these photos don't take forever to load. I was at Xiaxue's blog and half her photos did not appear on my screen even after 5 minutes.
I am feeling insecure. I can't quite remember how to write anymore. Being out of school (as a student) for too long has made my writing and analytical skills take a backseat. Having a routine life once again in school (now teaching) doesn't give me very much to talk about either. Having a steady boyfriend whom I, with all my heart, think I'm going to marry (a very embarrassing happy-ever-after dream) doesn't give me crushes, flings, all-girl wild parties and boredom to talk about either. I feel like I've settled down to soon. Ah, what am I blabbering about? I'll be back studying in no time. July 2005 to be precise, at NIE -- on the same campus with my baby. Somehow, that previous statement just doesn't sound me. Ahh.. Identity crisis!
Anyway, back to Penang.
Like all trips overseas, the story must begin with some journey to the destination (whether by way of air, road, sea or imagination). Did I mention I love plane rides? However, I only have a penchant for the short (preferbly about 4 hours) ones. These short journeys give me enough time to enjoy the take-off, half an hour to reminisce the take-off, another half hour to acknowledge and appreciate the constraints of the aeroplane, a couple of hours to enjoy one in-flight movie (usually the airlines offer a recently released movie -- that saves me $8.50/7.50/6.50), a cumulative half hour to enjoy the sanitary provisions of the small toilet cubicles playing with the loud vacuum flush, using the "Specially packaged for _______ Airlines" moisturiser and aftershave and finding the secret catch to open the cabinet holding the extra sanitary pad and facial tissue supplies.
Where was I? Oh yes, So here's the pictorial representation of my descend onto the turtle-shape island of Penang. The centre of the island, which is hilly, is so filled with dense vegetation that from the bird's eye view that I had, Penang looked like a giant broccoli on a sand-coloured plate.

My sister finally persuaded my Mum to let us go on the trishaw while Grandma (Mama), Grandma's Sis (E-Poh) and Mum (Mum) took a taxi to one of our shopping destinations (shopping was just by the way for this Penang trip, although we did spend more than RM2000 on shopping alone).

It appears that every Malaysian taxi I have seen has the driver's name displayed on the external body of the vehicle.
When we went to a taxi stand and asked the driver (who was relaxing outside his car) who was to our greatest geographical convenience to take us to our destination, I was stunned when he so nicely called another driver to serve us. To me it was either "wow, what laziness" or "wow, what generosity". Apparently, I was wrong on both exclamations.
In Penang, the taxis don't run on meter and taxis don't form a queue. Instead, there's a general fixed price for a trip depending on distance and time (e.g. peak traffic hours) and the taxi drivers themselves queue out of their vehicles. The taxi drivers join a few taxi associations; each association entitles them to pick up passengers from a particular taxi stand. While the taxis can pick passengers off the road, they are not allowed to service passengers from official stands that they are not members of.

Here's the coffeeshop outside our hotel. The drinkstall was very classic Malaysian to me (because that's how I remember the KL coffeeshops look). Have a look at the drinks price board.

You can click on the photo to have it magnified on a separate browser window, wait for it to fully load, then move your mouse about the bottom right corner of the picture to find the magnification tool and click on it.

Our staple food during the four days:

Penang Char Kway Teow: The kway teow here is narrower and softer, while the prawns have a fresh crunch and the taogeh is served in generous portions (versus in Singapore where after much pleading with the hawker for more beansprouts, he grouchily throws in a few skinny strands here)

Penang Hei Mee (Prawn Noodles): This was absolutely fantastic. The small serving of beehoon was doused in a bowl of soup reddish with chilly and prawn stock, but not overly spicy, rich in flavour. They even a have a slice of my favourite food -- egg.

These two dishes were my personal favourites.

Ok, now for the wedding part. My distant cousin (ok, immediate cousin, but geographically and sentimentally far away), Colin and his bride, Ashley (everyone calls her Ju Yan, but she used her christian name probably for aesthetic reasons on the wedding invitation, church wedding programme and at the Shangri-la banquet):

I love her bouquet of flowers. Pretty unique; I'd want that for my own wedding, I thought. But on second thought, my sister and I agreed that if she would to toss her bridal bouquet in the traditional "which-unmarried-maiden-is-going-to-be-next-to-walk-down-the-aisle", the bunch of celery sticks would probably kill that poor maiden before she could say "I do".

Will you believe my tomboy sister wore a skirt -- and pink? Doesn't she look lovely? It was her first time wearing a skirt (other than her school skirt) -- and pink.

The mafia looking scene above comprises of (from left) the groom's sister, Charmaine (affectionately known as Ahchar) , her angmoh husband (now separated on amicable terms), Mark, and the groom's brother, Chris. Charmaine wore a polo T-shirt and jeans to her own brother's wedding, while Mark wore an unsophisticated black vest as he was the cameraman for the wedding. No wonder they weren't offered the church ceremony programme at the entrance.

The wedding dinner at Shangri-la:

(I'm not being narcissistic here, but the photo with the bride and groom at the dinner table refuses to appear on my blog, so the next best feature of the evening is me!)

Mum made me fully get my money's worth on my prom-night gown. I outdressed the bride, who came in a badly-cut bareback black dress which revealed an unsexy beige underwear and a middle-age spread (she's 32 and he's 29). It was quite embarrassing, in my opinion, when the relatives (during the dinner itself and in the next 2 days) expressed their disgust at the bride's choice of an inauspicious black along with an unflattering design and exclaimed in Hokkien, "Wei Wei's dress was prettier than hers!"

Doesn't my sister, for those of you who know her, look a on the prettier and feminine side when dressed up?

E-Poh, Mama and my Malaysian baby-face cousin, Adrian, who is now struggling in Singapore with the bad food (in comparison to Malaysia's quality hawker fare) now so that he can get his bar (some cert which entitles him to practice law in Singapore).

This aunty came late (which is expected from her). She had no time to pose for a photo with the waiter lurking around our table eager to remove this plate to make space for the next. As such, her main priority at this point was to transfer the yummy contents of the cold dish onto her plate before the evil waiter got to it first.

Late aunty's (I mean tardy aunty's) bulky 13-year-old baby experimenting static electricity with the helium-filled balloons he stole from the wedding entrance decorations. This is him rubbing the balloon against his hair. What is not shown is how he went round our table to find out whose hair would get attracted to the balloon's static electricity forces.

Of course, what is a trip all the way to Penang for a ceremonial church wedding and a social obligation of a dinner follow-up without us far-travelling relatives meeting the actual bride and groom? Two days after the wedding, an entourage of Cousin-Babyface's family and mine barged into the home of the parents-of-the-groom's home for tea. Our ringing of the bell was responded to by a very sleepy aunty in the midst of her siesta and housecoat. Anyway, 15 minutes later, the unsuspecting and dazed groom walked into his parent's house (he lives in the unit next door) for tea and became the unfortunate victim of my photo-blogging.

And in tow 5 minutes later was his wife, Ju Yan, whose name her hard-of-hearing father-in-law (visit his hobby Penang website which the Penang tourism board has recently began to fund) still believes to be Joanne.

Now that you have participated in my evil sharing of my family and their horrible side, the wedding narrative has come to an end.

We had three solid days of shopping nevertheless and here's my Mum posing in her new suit in the toilet. She bought a pretty pink blouse and a pair of beaded olive green jeans on the second day of shopping which she bravely wore out on the third.

Penang's airport should be given an award for having the most apt service in an airport -- massage chairs that charge RM2 for $5 of sensual pleasure. Here's my sister digging two RM1 coins for my mother's enjoyment -- she who waits in such eager anticipation for a holiday from the 3 holidays.