Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 - The Year That Was

Time really does fly, especially when one gets older. I can't believe that 2009 has come and in a few hours, gone. There were challenging times but all in all, it's been a memorable year. I've had the opportunity to do what I really enjoy - travelling, both for work and pleasure.

Indeed, as I look back, I realize that I am truly blessed. I have a family who loves me, surrounded by friends who care, and saved by the grace of God. What more could one ask for?

These are my photo memories of the year 2009:

January - College reunion

February - Chinese New Year

March - Lazing by the beach at Langkawi

April - Enjoying a cup of tea at Cameron Highlands

May - J at Mount Kinabalu (for the 3rd time!)

June - Was a slow month

July - Sometimes the simple things in life are the most memorable

August - A night out at Il Padrino

September - The Great Ocean Road Trip, Australia

October - Shopping on Regent and Oxford Street, London

November - In awe of the Taj Mahal

December - Christmas in Bangkok

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Taj Mahal - Seven Wonders of the World

Work has brought me to some places that I would never have otherwise visited. During my recent travel to New Delhi, I managed to squeeze in a day trip to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The 200 km journey to Agra was long - it took us almost 6 hours. Despite it being a Sunday, traffic was heavy. In addition to cars, the roads were crowded with all forms of transportation - motor-powered and animal-driven. From time to time, a cow may block the road, oblivious to the traffic or the honking. One thing about Indian driving that drove me up the wall is the honking. People there love to honk with or without good reason. In fact, the trucks have a sign painted on the back "Please honk". Go figure!

Despite the long and tedious journey to Agra, the Taj Mahal is definitely worth a visit. It is truly a spectacular specimen of Mughal architecture. It's no wonder the Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Taj Mahal has a romantic history. It was built by a grief-stricken emperor, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Despite her pregnancy, Mumtaz followed the Emperor to the battle field. She went into labour at the battle field and died whilst bearing their fourteenth child. According to our guide, Mumtaz had a vision of the Taj on the bank of the river Yamunna and had requested the Emperor to build the mausoleum in her honour. The Taj Mahal took approximately 22 years to construct.

The main gateway to the Taj Mahal is the Great Gate "Darwaza-i rauza".

As you walk through the archway of the main gate, you will see the Taj Mahal centered through the archway. Symmetry is one of the key features of the Taj Mahal, a theme that one sees over and over again.

Once you pass through the gate, you will see the Taj Mahal, a towering image of white marble against the backdrop of the brilliant blue sky and surrounded by lush green gardens. Our guide informed us that the Taj was meant to be seen as a live painting, with the primary colours of white, blue, green and red. Indeed, it is a masterpiece. When the fountains are off, you can see the reflection of the Taj Mahal in the water of the pool. The four surrounding minarets not only adds depth and dimension to the Taj Mahal (if you covered the minarets, the tomb complex would appear one-dimensional), it also reflects the symmetrical theme prevalent throughout the Taj Mahal.

Close-up, it's impossible not to be impressed by the mastery of the Taj's builders and designers - from the Islamic calligraphy to the sculpted flowers...When one considers that the Taj Mahal was constructed in the 1600's without the tools of modern day construction, it is an amazing feat indeed.

At each side of the main complex, there are two red sandstone buildings which are mirror image of each other. The building on the left side is a mosque, which is still used today for Friday afternoon prayers. The building on the right side was built for architectural symmetry.

The Taj Mahal truly does deserve its spot in the Seven Wonders of the World. It is not only a stunning display of Persian, Indian and Islamic architecture but a display of true love from an Emperor for his beloved wife.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What New Delhi Taught Me About Gratitude

There is a Sunday school song that goes something like this "Count your blessings one by one". Too often, we forget to do that. It's only when we see others less fortunate than ourselves that we are reminded of how much we have been given.

On my first trip to India, I saw first hand how the poor in one of the world's largest populated nations live. It's not something one forgets easily - families building make-shift homes on the sidewalk. I was told that some of these people have to pay "rent" for the sidewalk space. Livestock and strays forage for food in piles of rubbish. Horses, cows and donkeys that pull carts filled with supplies look mal-nutritioned. People cram into buses, three-cycle motorcyles, trucks and tractor or animal pulled carts, some hanging precariously. Children have to work, be it in the paddy fields or selling souveniers to tourists.

Of course, not all of India is like that. But during my 5-hour car ride from Delhi to Agra, home to the magnificent Taj Mahal, I saw these scenes repeatedly. After an experience like that, I'm not likely to be complaining about the "hardships" of life anymore. My troubles compared to the daily struggles of these people and animals just to survive day to day seems insignificant. If there's one thing my experience in India has taught me is to count my blessings one by one.

"Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have, we will not be happy - because we will always want to have something else or something more."

Brother David Steindl - Rast

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Taxi Phenomenon in Singapore

It's been years since I was last in Singapore. Last night I experienced what I would call the "taxi phenomenon" in Singapore. M & I decided to go to Vivocity for dinner at the Serenity Spanish Restaurant. After a delicious meal of paella and tapas, we decided to head back to the hotel. We followed the taxi signs in the mall. As we had no trouble catching a taxi there, we did not expect any difficulties for our return journey. After all, we saw a long line of taxis queuing for passengers when we were dropped off. Boy,were we in for a surprise!

Once we were outside, we saw people scattered around the curb, sticking their heads out looking out for taxis. There were a couple of taxis, which had the hired signs on without passengers. We were puzzled. So, we asked someone where the taxi queue was and was told it was further ahead. Later in the queue, we discovered from a local in the line that the taxis we saw earlier were pre-booked. We soon learnt the hard way why people pre-book the taxis - after one hour of being in the queue, which by all intents and purposes wasn't really that long, the lack of available taxis at 9.30 pm became very clear to us. As visitors to the country, we were caught unaware by this phenomenon. We were so desperate that we even considered taking the limousine across the taxi queue. The $40 quote stopped us. The wait - 1 hour, the journey - 10 minutes.

The question is - does the lack of taxis at the stands cause more pre-booking or does the increase in pre-booking perpetuate a shortage of taxis at the stands? Or maybe, they just feed each other. Whatever the answer, I have now programmed the phone number of a taxi company on my phone - just in case!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

British Humour

And what a property it was...

Anyone fancy a game of giant chess?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Can you read this?

I received this in my e-mail today. I thought it was a really interesting experiment. I could read it. See if you can read this too.

Fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sick as a Dog

I just posted this phrase on Kess' blog for the Dog Series, so it seemed appropriate to use the same title for this post.

Who would have thought that a little thing such as a tooth can cause such pain and agony and bring a grown person to their knees? Having gone through the experience recently, albeit as an observer of a loved one (LO) suffering, I can testify that being "Sick as a Dog" from a tooth ache is no fun at all. It is even more frustrating when the root of the problem cannot be traced accurately as one can't really pinpoint where the pain in the mouth comes from.

The problem first started with sensitive tooth-like symptoms when LO experienced a stinging sensation when consuming cold or hot drinks, ice-creams, etc. So, LO went to the dentist who, like a detective had to perform tests to figure out the problem. X-rays came back negative but the dentist was able to test via the use of cold air to identify the sensitive tooth. He also recommended the removal of a wisdom tooth as it was starting to impact on the other teeth. LO postponed the wisdom tooth removal due to work commitments but took the doctor's advise to chew gum (to stimulate saliva which is one of the most powerful defense mechanisms in the body), apply tooth mousse and use sensitive teeth toothpaste.

A couple days later, the tooth ache became unbearable and LO had to see the dentist again. As with the last visit, x-rays did not reveal any problems. So, the dentist had to go via a process of elimination to try to detect the problem. Physical examination of each tooth also could not reveal the cause of the pain. The wisdom tooth had to go. The next day, during a follow up visit after the tooth extraction, LO complained of short bouts of sharp pain when consuming liquids. The dentist used infra red tooth by tooth and this time, discovered a hair-line crack. This time round, LO experienced pain during physical examination unlike the previous visits. Like a split durian, the crack probably became bigger over time. As a temporary measure, the dentist did a draining procedure to alleviate the pressure and the pain. Next, the root canal and crowning treatment will begin over the the next couple of weeks.

So, was the wisdom tooth extraction in vain? I guess we'll never know. But what we do know is take care of your teeth! The 32 small whitish structures in your mouth deserve all the care you give them. So visit your dentist regularly and practice good dental hygiene. Oh, and don't crack your teeth or you'll really be sick as a dog.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Italian cuisine at Il Padrino Restaurant

J & I are always on the lookout for good Italian food in Kuala Lumpur. Having lived in Bangkok for almost 2 years, we've been spoilt by the wonderful selection of hams and sausages served at our favourite Italian restaurants there. When we came across a review on Il Padrino, we knew we had to check it out because it actually serves Parma Ham (or Prosciutto di Parma), thinly sliced dry-cured ham, a rare treat in Malaysia since most Italian restaurants are halal.

Since we were there to celebrate a special occassion, we decided to splurge and go for the full works, starting with the appetizer "Antipasto Misto Il Padrino, a platter consisting of Bresaola (air drief beef), Tomato Buffalo Mozzarella, Calamari, Parma Ham with Melon and Grilled Vegetables. The menu states that the portions are for two people but if you intend to order one main each, you can request for a half portion, which is a great way to taste a little bit of everything. What a wonderful way to start off the meal. The Bresaola was so tender it literally melts in your mouth. The slightly salty parma ham was balanced beautifully by the sweetness of the melon. The plum tomatoes complimented the mozzarella whilst the calamari and grilled vegetables added a warm touch to the cold appetizers.

For the mains, we opted for the Pizza Il Padrino (comprising parma ham, tomato slices, buffallo mozzarella cheese and rocket salad served on a thin crust pizza) and Costolette Di Agnello Scottatido (Grilled rack of lamb served with roasted capsicum, potato and rosemary garlic sauce). I had high expectations for the parma ham pizza as it's been a year since I've last eaten it in Bangkok. Whilst it did fulfill my craving for parma ham pizza, I have to confess that I was a little disappointed at the amount of parma ham on my pizza. I also didn't quite enjoy the rocket salad on my pizza and would have prefered basil instead.

The grilled rack of lamb was a winner in our books. Cooked to medium well, it was beautifully browned on the outside and was a lovely shade of pinky red on the inside. Because it was medium well, the meat was juicy and tender.

At this stage, we were already quite full but could not resist the classical Italian dessert, tiramisu. Not only was it a treat to look at, but it was a sweet finish to a very satisfying meal.

The Il Padrino is definitely worth a second visit. Next time, we hope to come with a bigger group so that we can try a greater selection of food. Service is attentive and its Godfather-themed ambience is welcoming. We'll be back.

Il Padrino Italian Restaurant & Bar
50-G-A, Ground Floor
Wisma UOA Damansara
No. 50, Jalan Dungun, Damansara Heights, KL
Tel: 603-20938596

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Time For Me

I woke up this morning to a brilliant blue sky - the kind that we've not seen for a while in light of the haze we've had. It reminded me of the same beautiful day I spent in the Andaman, Langkawi earlier this year. And like that day, it would have been a waste to spend it indoors. So after my regular morning walk with Kess, I decided to pop by the park for a brisk walk to get my heart rate up (Kess tends to sniff every tree, branch, hydrant and electric pole so we usually end up with a leisurely walk). Later in the morning, I took my parents for a follow-up visit to dad's cardio and then had lunch with them at a popular Hakka restaurant. I got home just in time to catch a bit of the hunky "Take Home Chef" on the Asian Food Channel. After all that food, it was time for a quick nap.

Refreshed and awakened by a strong cup of Ipoh white coffee, I decided it is time to update my neglected blog, which brings me to this very moment in time. The very fact that I can do this today, on a weekday, is a gift - a gift of time. Ever since I started working from home last year, I've really cherished the flexibility of working from home. Sure, it requires an incredible amount of discipline because unlike working in an office, there isn't a punch-in clock or a sign-in sheet or a raised eyebrow from the boss to keep me on my toes. What drives me is deadlines. Yes, I can choose the hours I work but sometimes my choices mean I have to work nights or weekends to get the project done. For today, it is good enough that I can choose to take this weekday off for myself.

Tomorrow, it's back to work. A deadline awaits.

"Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can't buy more hours. Scientists can't invent new minutes. And you can't save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you've wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow."
~Denis Waitely

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Beagle and Me - The puppy years

I finally watched Marley and Me, a hilarious tale of Marley, a "clearance pup", hyper-active, storm-fearing, trouble-causing Labrador and his humans, the Grogan family. I laughed at his antics, sympathized with the Grogans and as warned, cried bucketfuls at the end when the family had to finally "let Marley go" when Marley was ill with a serious stomach disorder.

I couldn't help but think about my relationship with Kess, my beagle. J and I welcomed her into our family 7 years ago. For us, she is more than a dog, more than a pet - she is our child.

There are some parallels between a puppy and a baby, although it is much easier having a dog than a child. As part of her "potty training", every time she woke up from sleep, after play and after meals, we used to place her in a small fenced area in our garden to pee and poo. Of course, she didn't always cooperate. The worst times were when she woke up at the wee hours in the morning and whined to be let out of her crate. Bleary-eyed and groggy, we would let her out and place her into her fenced-in spot. We would then sit on the bench and waited, and waited some more. Our neighbours probably thought we were wonky!

Like Marley, trouble is also Kess' middle name. She did not like to kept in a confined area. We had to abandon our noble ideas of crate training as she would just whine and claw at the crate door. We then decided to keep her at the laundry area next to our kitchen - a bigger area should do the trick, so we thought. We fenced the area off with dog fencing and went off to bed. A couple of hours later, our blissful sleep was interrupted by a heart-wrenching yelp of pain. We jumped out of bed and rushed to the back. Our little beagle pup, in her quest to escape from her "prison", had tried to climb over the dog fencing and had gotten her paws stuck in the gaps. This was the start of her famous escapades, and we knew we should have named her "Houdini" after the famous magician and escapologist.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Family - Life's greatest blessing

~ The love of a family is life's greatest blessing ~ Author Unknown

In these past few weeks, I've really come to appreciate the meaning of family. I felt really sad when I read the headlines in the Star about children abandoning their parents at government hospitals. It does make you wonder what have we become in today's society? Have we lost our sense of humanity and compassion?

When dad was scheduled to go in for a total knee replacement surgery, my sisters and I rallied around my parents, giving our support in time and finances. I'll be the first to admit that it was tough. Our regular routines were thrown topsy turvy with hospital stays and visits. Post-surgery,there were errands to run and more follow-up visits to the hospital. Yes, it wasn't easy, but I guess it's the least we could do given the sacrifices that mum and dad made to raise us and provide us with a good education. They saved and scrimped so that we could have a better life. We do, thanks to mum and dad.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Action Speaks Louder than Words

"Action speaks louder than words"

Sometimes love is best expressed by action. Dad just went for a total knee replacement surgery two weeks back and more recently, gave us all a scare when his heart rate spiked to 149 bpm and he had to be admitted to ICU. Throughout the numerous trips to the hospital and post-surgery recovery, mum's been a rock. It is not easy to be a care-giver, especially when the patient is frustrated and in pain. But mum is a trooper and I am so amazed by her love for dad.

In our Asian culture, especially among the older folks, it is not common to hear them express their love with the words "I love you". But then again, action speaks louder than words.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Take Charge of Your Health Today

"When it comes to eating right and exercising, there is no "I'll start tomorrow." Tomorrow is disease. ~V.L. Allineare

Over the last couple of years, I've seen my dad survive a heart attack and colon cancer. It's scary. Nowadays it is not uncommon for any one of us to know personally of one or more person with cancer. Maybe it's the world we live in today - Pollution in the air, hormones in our food, contaminants in our water, etc. Seeing my dad endure all the pain and suffering from surgery and treatment is a strong reminder to take care of my health now for my future.

I love food and am not likely to be vegetarian anytime soon. I am a strong believer in eating delicious food (translate to not so healthy stuff) in moderation and adding more vegetable and fruits to my diet. I also believe that when we eat home-cooked food, we have more control over what goes into our bodies. Hence, apart from cooking dinner most days (less salt and oil), I now bake my own bread (which is a breeze with my Kenwood breadmaker), make my own cakes (reduced sugar)and boil barley and herb drinks, or as the Chinese call "Liong cha" (which helps cool the body in today's hazy and hot weather). Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy going out for meals from time to time.

Exercise is the other important component for good health. Due to his bad knee, my dad used to give the excuse that he can't exercise. Now, based on the advice from his orthopedic surgeon, he is working out on a recumbent exercise bike which has a back support to prepare for his knee replacement surgery. The point is we shouldn't give excuses for not working out. There are many exercise options to compensate for injury if only we bother to find out. I've just taken up Pilates this year and find that the stretches and exercises strengthen my muscles and back. Strange as it may sound, I actually look forward to my abs and other muscles aching after a workout because I know I'm working towards a stronger body.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My New York Journey

It's taken me almost a year to finally complete my posts on my New York journey last summer. I'm glad I finally did to provide myself a written memory of the trip. Towards the end, I had to rack my brains to recall the highlights and places. So, I can imagine a few years down the track, it would be even worse!

We started in New York city, made our way north west towards Finger Lakes, with a shopping stop at Woodbury before that. We then headed west as we visited the southern tips of the major lakes heading towards Castile. We ended up at the beautiful Niagara Falls and journeyed back eastwards, this time on the northern tip of the Finger Lakes towards the Southern Adirondacks. Mapquest made planning our journey easier as it provided us with driving directions. It's not 100% accurate but it does a good job!

Highlights of our trip:
1) Seeing the famous icons of New York - Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Central Park, Rockefeller Centre, Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square and the Wall Street Bull

2) Visiting the United Nations and sitting in the the General Assembly Hall and the Security Council Chamber.

3) Walking down Broadway and watching the live performances

4) Shopping, shopping and more shopping!

5) Staying at bed and breakfasts and making friends with our hosts. We particularly enjoyed getting to know Napoleon from Fox Ridge Farm.

6) Spotting unusual surprises on our journey

7) Enjoying the great outdoors

8) Savouring the beautiful sunsets

As the theme song from the movie New York, New York goes:
"Start spreadin' the news, I'm leaving today
I want to be a part of it: New York, New York.”

I Love New York!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lake George - Southern Adirondacks

Lake George greeted our arrival with summer sunshine and dreamy cloud-dotted blue skies. The 32-mile long lake is a hub of activity filled with sightseeing cruise boats, kayakers, swimmers and picnickers all out for some fun in the sun. It's definitely a tourist hot spot with no shortage of accomodation, eating and activity options.It was fun strolling down the streets in town and checking out the colourful shops selling souveniers, t-shirts, ice creams, handicrafts, etc. We managed to find a little china porcelain dog to add to our beagle collection.

But it soon became too hot to be outdoors. To escape the afternoon heat, we headed out to the factory outlets on State Route 9, not too far out of town. At this stage, I've lost count of the number of factory outlets I've visited in the state of New York. Let's see, first there was Century 21, then Woodbury, Niagara, Waterloo and now Lake George! Talk about shopper's haven - we'll worry about the credit card bill later...

That night, we decided to skip the tourist restaurants and opted for a local favourite which is off the main tourist streets. The East Cove restaurant is a cosy log cabin which serves great food.

We definitely stood out at the almost full restaurant, as we were not only the only tourists, but also the only Asians. At this stage of our trip, we were pretty used to it. Outside of New York City and Woodbury, we had only seen 1 other Asian family during our road trip around New York State. The contrast hits you on the face, especially since New York City is a giant melting pot of diverse cultures and skin colours. Anyway, because we "stood out", we drew the attention of a couple sitted near us, the Reicherts. They were curious as to how we knew about the East Cove since it was out of the tourist belt. Again, we had to thank Frommers - our New York guide book pages were dog-eared at this stage of our journey. The Reicherts are a lovely couple and we enjoyed our short conversation with them until our dinner arrived. What a dinner it was - Maine lobsters and grilled pork chop. Yummm....

Later, we popped by the supermarket to buy a tub of Ben and Jerry's for dessert. This was our second ice-cream for the entire trip as we were both down with a cough earlier. Sadly, it would be the last ice cream in New York as our road trip had come to an end. The next day, we headed back to New York City for 1 last night before we caught a flight back home. In direct contrast to the day before, and in matching with our mood, the weather was gloomy as the drizzle bade us farewell.