Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Happy birthday, Faisal!

Last Saturday, the G8 came down to Melaka for a weekend retreat. These guys are some of my closest and dearest friends. We've been doing regular get-togethers to celebrate birthdays, house warmings, and basically any excuse to meet up for dinner...or lunch... or breakfast... or.. you get the picture.

Anyway, they all drove down in separate cars around mid-afternoon, and by the time the last of the lot arrive at 6.00pm, we were all famished. So, off we went to the famous Portuguese Settlement for some delicious fresh seafood!

Black pepper crab, Baked fish, Grilled Aubergine, Squid Fritters, Otak-Otak, Chicken and Beef Satay, Kangkung Belacan, Kapitan Chicken, fresh coconuts....it was all so delicious that none of us remembered to take any pics of the dishes and tucked right into the food as soon as they arrived. Hence this pic of empty dishes and completely satisfied stoma... err... I mean people.

Then came the surprise... or at least it was a surprise for one of the guys, Faisal. We had secretly arranged to celebrate his upcoming birthday there and even got for him his favourite cake, Chocolate Indulgence from Secret Recipe. His face blushed so red as we all sang out loud the birthday song..."Happy birthday to... Fai... Sal.........! (take quick deep breath) Ha...pee birthday to..... youuuuuu......!" And was that a tear I spotted at the corner of his left eye? ;-)

With our stomachs satiated, we proceeded to take a walk around the village as the local Cristao folk had put up the Christmas decorations. Every house was bedecked with colourful lights, lovely wreaths, lifesize models of Father Christmas and even Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. There were kids everywhere playing fireworks while a group of carolers were making the rounds singing carols and making merry with the restaurant customers. Ah, Christmas is nigh.....

Afterwards, we took a stroll down Jonker Walk. Actually, it was more of a crawl as the street market was packed with people, mostly tourists from KL, Singapore and the occasional 'omputih'. There was this new shop called Puri Padi which sells authentic Balinese art-deco items that Faisal fell in love with. The outer courtyard was landscaped to look like a typical Balinese garden, complete with a wooden gazebo, stoney walkway and a small pond with water trickling out of a carved stonehead. Walking through the courtyard towards the shop proper was quite therapeutic, kudos to the owner and landscape artist!

Later, a few of us decided to hang out at the Limau Limau Juice Bar situated in the heart of Jonker Walk. This old straits-shophouse-converted bar serves delicious concoctions of fruit lassi, yogurt, frappes and juices. From apple-orange to mango-lychee, there was just so many different combinations that I was spoilt for choice. Most of them tasted really good, not too sweet and you could even bite into tiny chunks of fruit. The one I didn't take to was the cucumber-lime lassi which was just a tad too sour for my liking.

As the evening grew late, the excitement of the entire day finally took its toll on us. One last sip, a big bear hug for the birthday boy and then, we all headed home.

Happy birthday Faisal! Have a joyous celebration today and a blessed year ahead!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Few Of My Favourite Things 2006

It's that time of the year again when we dust off the year's memories, relive the highlights and reminisce about the events that made the year special. In keeping with tradition, this is my Top 10 list of two thousand oh six.

1. Grey's Anatomy

The title is a throwback to the 'bible' of human anatomy aka the bane of every Med student's existence. This medical drama about the lives of a bunch of surgical interns and their superior officers isn't terribly original nor are the stories groundbreaking. What kept me glued to the TV screen was the way they are portrayed as real life human beings, capable of making real mistakes in their personal as well as professional lives. My favourite is Sandra Oh's award-winning portrayal of the ambitious and witty Dr. Christina Yang who in one episode couldn't resist nosing around for cases despite the fact that she's technically a patient in recovery from a recent miscarriage.

2. Must Be Doing Something Right

This was a #1 single on the Billboard Country Songs chart way back in spring. What I loved about the song was the way the singer, Billy Currington delivered the song in his trademark laidback drawl. You could almost 'hear' him smiling as he realises that whatever he is doing for the woman sighing contentedly in his arms right now, he's obviously doing it right. And the video made me think of idyllic times at the beach in Redang.... anything that can do that is a winner in my books.

3. The Prestige

For favourite movie, it was a toss-up between Pixar's animation marvel 'Cars' and the Christopher Nolen (of Batman Returns fame)-helmed 'The Prestige'. In the end, the inner adult won. Solid performances by the cast and a moodily uncanny depiction of life in the early 20th century as seen through the eyes of two rival magician wannabes manage to overshadow the occasional gaps in momentum and story, building up to an understatedly shocking finale that left me pondering long after I left the cinema.

4. Homemade chai

Ok, it's not exactly homemade. I bought the spice powder at the local Indian food store. But it's my recipe. Ok, it's not exactly my recipe, I learnt it from my good friend Ajeet. But I modified it using the microwave instead of the gas stove - faster and less messy! And it's approved by the good doctor who drove 100km just for a cuppa.

Which brings me to No. 5

5. The good doc

This fella practically fell out of the sky to create 'havoc' in my life. Before I knew it, all kinds of files were flying through the Internet, from music MP3s to self-hypnosis downloads to pirated Mac programmes. This guy is practically an OS X guru despite having just 'converted' to Macology six months ago! If I didn't know better, I'd say he's an IT wiz. Turns out he's also a medical doctor. Yeah, complete with stethoscopes, the ubiquitous white coat and arterial blood-gas figures. Bro, you've been a blessing to me and I hope our friendship will go from strength to strength in the new year. God bless you!

6. iPod Video 80G

Doesn't it look ever so cool? How could I resist getting one? 80G of pure bliss. Plus it came with free gifts (Smartwrap wire organiser, Apple original universal dock and electrical socket adapter) worth RM300. And I can use it as a portable harddisk. And I can view (read: show off) my dive pics on its photoviewer. And I can play Bejeweled on it. And the latest Nelly Furtado music video.

Admit it. You want one too.

7. Hanoi or Prague or Bangkok or Singapore

I love my life. I love the fact that I can go anywhere I want to (budget concerns notwithstanding) be it on land, sand or sea. This year I think I went overboard with it (pun not intended) and my bank account suffered as a result. AirAsia should be giving me VIP status for all the flying I do with them. My mom is starting to get worried if I'll ever find the time to go back to work at all. Maybe I should follow Doc's advise and start selling my dive pics on the net to recoup the 'operating costs'.

8. iTunes 7.0

Firstly, let's be honest about something. iTunes for Windows sucks bigtime. It hogs up too much processor power and playback is at times dodgy and prone to hang unless you have like 2 Billion Gigs of memory to spare. On the Mac OS X.4 however, it (obviously) works like a dream and the latest version is packed with a lot of cool new features like the Jukebox display which allows you to scroll through the album art as you browse through your MP3 collection. Heck, it even automatically searches the Web for the album covers for you.

9. Kluang Station coffee shop

I've never been to the original Kluang coffee shop but the word on the street is that the charcoal-toasted bread with kaya is to die for. The franchise outlet in 1Utama is, IMHO, quite a good ambassador for the original. The bread tastes heavenly especially with Kluang coffee (which is almost as good as Muar's 434 coffee) but my personal favourite is the Mee Siam. At RM8.00, it's quite pricey, but you wouldn't know it from the crowd that seems to pack the place 24/7, even at 9.00 am on a Sunday!

10.Layang Layang

This diving mecca in the middle of South China Sea rivals Sipadan as the premier dive site in Malaysia. Leatherback turtle, Leopard shark, Hammerhead shark, Manta Ray, Pygmy Devil Ray, Ghost pipefish, Nudibranches, Giant Gorgonian Seafans..... the list goes on and on. It helps that I was with great company and also made new friends there as well. Thanks to Chris, Terry, Yanni, Asther, Jasper, Ajeet and the rest of the gang for a memorable dive holiday.

Ok. That's it for 2006. There were of course a few incidents and experiences I wouldn't care for (breakups, losses, arguments etc) but then again, the highlights above made up for the low points by far. To all my friends and family, Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year 2007!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Of Saunas, kitty cats and hijjabs

"So, here is my question," said Aziz for what must had been the fifth time last evening, "how is it that even four year old girls wear the hijjab?"

I was stumped for an answer that would satisfy the curiosity of my new friends from America, no, make that United States of America, for as Kathy, Aziz's wife, would say, "America would comprise the USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil etc."

I met Aziz and Kathy during my holiday in Hanoi last month. We were booked on the same city tour and so shared the same tour van. Kathy is from Minnesota while Aziz who is Kuwaiti-American had spent much of his childhood in Kuwait where his parents now reside. We hit it off really well in Vietnam and decided that we would try to meet up when they swing by Malaysia on their way to Bali.

So in between mouthfuls of assam fish and sticks of satay dipped in peanut sauce, our conversation went from how their kitty cat isn't so 'kitty' anymore (it weighs 8kgs!) to why religion seems to fuel a lot of unrest and intolerance in the world today.

"I think it's because the girl's parents wanted to immerse her in basic Islamic fundamentals from an early age, you know, start them young..." was the best I could come up with. Being non-Muslim, I was certainly no authority on juvenile female Malay-muslim attire but I was more than pleased to enlighten Aziz in any way I can about life in Malaysia.

He then went on to comment on how some Kuwaiti girls would wear colourful headscarves together with midriff bearing outfits and the shortest mini-skirts money could buy, which he felt was defeating the whole purpose of wearing the hijjab (or tudung as is known here) in the first place. The hijjab, Kathy gathered, had become a fashion statement, a phenomenon that I noticed had gained momentum here as well.

Kathy, who is of Scandinavian heritage, had previously in Hanoi given me a brief history lesson on the origins of saunas (it's pronounced as Sa-u-na, not saw-na). It was so interesting to learn that whenever she tries to speak with her Kuwaiti in-laws, she would think in her highschool Spanish (yes, espaƱol) and then retranslate those thoughts into English, hoping that by thinking in a foreign language, she could communicate more clearly with Aziz's parents, never mind that Kuwaitis speak Arabic, not Mexican. In a way, I guess it makes sense.

I had ordered a repertoire of simple seafood dishes for our dinner at a popular local Chinese restaurant, making sure that the food was halal as Aziz was Muslim. Apart from the fish and satay we also feasted on some mussels in clear chilli broth and butter prawns in mayonaise and sesame seeds. They also tried the ubiquitous kangkung belacan, which they call morning glory, a plant they never knew was edible before they came to Southeast Asia.

I was glad to see that they loved it, and I felt like I had done my country proud by being the perfect culinary ambassador for Malaysia. That is until Kathy posed this question: How do you pick a good durian, the one with firm white flesh or the yellow creamy one? I sheepishly admitted that I avoid the durian like the plague and that as far as I knew, D24 durians are the best, regardless of the colour or texture. And that they should do all their kissing before eating it.

Of course, politics was the topic du jour and we exchanged amusing yet insightful stories about President Bush's conviction that invading Iraq was his God-given mission in life, the communist insurgency in Malaya back in the 50's, and how the concept of separation of church (religion) and state in the US is not the same now as it was when the Constitiution was first written.

All in all, it was indeed a wonderful evening of delicious food, hearty laughter and spirited intellectual discourse between three people who, despite the apparent differences in apperance, beliefs, and heritage, share similar values in life and appreciate similar things. Oh and the realisation that none of us can do a credible Australian accent even if our lives depended on it. Crikey!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why dentists have the highest suicide rate

How Much?

D (Dentist): Come in..... (Patient comes in the surgery room)... Good morning....

P (Patient): Eh, you extract teeth how much ah?

D: Erm... It depends....I would need to examine your tooth first. Please take a seat (motions to the dental chair).

P: It's oklah (refuses to approach the chair). I just want to know how much.

D: I will need to see the condition of the tooth to determine what sort of treatment or procedure is required, only then can I tell you how much....

P: Oh like that ah? If I just let you see, do I have to pay or not? If have to pay, I don't want.

D: ??!!?!?


Case of the thinning teeth

D: Miss P, I've examined your teeth and you will need to have it cleaned first and then there are three cavities that needs to be filled.

P: Clean? No needlah, I just brushed my teeth this morning.

D: Not brushing. I have to remove the tartar. You cannot clean those out by just brushing.

P: Really meh? They say that if let the dentist clean, my teeth will become thin (wear out) very fast.

D: Don't worry, miss. Your teeth will not suffer any adverse effects from professional cleaning.

P: It's oklah. I can clean by myself. (looks at the dentist like he's a fraudster out to cheat her of her money).



Child patient and her mother comes in.

D: Hello, Jeanie. How are you?

J: Waaaahhhhhhh!!!!

D: Oh dear. Please don't cry. (Looks at her mother) Madam Tan, has she got any toothache?

M: No lah. Her front teeth want to come out already, so her milk teeth very loose need to take out.

D: Oh I see. (Looks back at Jeanie) Ok, Jeanie, don't worry. No pain. Can you sit here?

J: Waaaaahhhhhhhhh!

D: Don't cry don't cry. Ok. Uncle won't take out today. Uncle just see only ok?

J: Waaaaaaahhhhhhh!

D: Wait later I give you sticker, you like sticker? You just let uncle see your teeth, can?

J: Waaaaahhhhhh!


I Dowan!

D: Hello, little girl. How are you?

Girl's mother: Hello Dr. My daughter Kim complained of toothache last night. I think need to pull out lah.

D: Hello Kim.

K: I don't want to extract.

D: Ok. ok. I just want to see, can?

K: I don't want to extract.

D: No, uncle won't extract. Promise. Can just see?

K: I don't want to extract.

D: Ok ok. So Kim, how old are you?

K: I don't want to extract.

D: Erm.... ok. Do you like to watch cartoons? Mickey Mouse? Teletubbies?

K: I don't want to extract.

D: Sigh........


Private Vs. Public

P: Dr., how much you charge for an extraction?

D: Well, it depends on the procedure required. Perhaps I can take a look at the tooth first?

P: Ok.... (opens his mouth and lets the dentist do an examination).

D: Hmm.... ok. You will only require a simple extraction.

P: And how much is that?

D: Between RM30 and RM40.

P: WAH! So expensive one ah?

D: No lah sir. It's actually quite low already compared to...

P: I went to the other place, they only charge me RM5.

D: Aiyoh, Mr. Tan. Where got so cheap one? You must have heard wrongly.

P: No, I distinctively heard the nurse there say the price of an extraction in RM5.

D: Where?

P: Over there... the government clinic at the corner*.

D: Sir, government and private cannot compare lah.

P: You all want to cheat us. RM30 means every tooth you extract, you earn RM25! You think I cannot count?

* Public hospitals and clinics charge a nominal fee for basic medical and dental treatment which does not reflect on the actual cost of the treatment. 90% of the actual cost of the treatment at public institiutions are borne (subsidised) by the Government.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dive Pics Southern Thailand: Nudi Heaven, Diver Hell

Our final dive was off Koh Mook, yet another small rocky outcrop with a large reef surrounding it. The underwater current was quite strong and much of the first half of our dive was spent fighting the current, crawling and clawing our way to avoid being swept away.

It was however a very fruitful dive as far as nudibranches were concerned. For although there wasn't much to see by way of corals and such, the mucky sandy bottom was thriving with nudis and I quickly forgot about the hellish Act 1 of the dive.

This is the first time I've seen this nudi, a Jorunna funebris or more commonly known as the Ringed Dorid. It is almost white with a pattern of black 'islands' that act as the perfect camouflage agisnt the backdrop of the mucky seabed.

This is a *blank* (to be filled by the nudimaster Asther).... UPDATE: Asther thinks this is a variant of Risbecia pulchella but she can't be sure as the gills are *absent*.

This pair of very frilly nudis are probably on their way to a ball for a flamenco performance. Hehehe

This is similar to the pair in the pic above - the Glossodoris atromarginata - except he's a loner going to gate-crash the flamenco party.

I know I've seen pics of this critter before somewhere but darn it, I can't seem to find its identity! UPDATE: This is a a color variation of Glossodoris cincta.

This is a Phyllidia pustulosa which is very similar to the more common Phyllidia elegans which has yellow rhinopores instead of black. (Asther, rhinopores are the two little black bumps at the front like sesungut, right?)

This is another species of the chromodoris genus called Chromodoris fidelis. So many of these I've only seen for the first time!

Another variant of the Phyllidia pustulosa.... or elegans..... TBC

Last but not least is this nudi probably from the Aphelodoris sp. UPDATE: Asther is debating this to be a Chromodoris trimarginata or Chromodoris preciosa..... Will send her the hi-res pics to help her decide. TBC

As usual, anyone who can help identify or confirm the nomenclature of these nudis, feel free to leave a message/comment. And a big thanks to Asther for all her help!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dive Pics Southern Thailand: Koh Waen

On our final day, we stopped at Koh Waen, another nearby island on the way back to the jetty for a short dive.

Visibility wasn't very good here, partly because the was a thrunderstorm the night before which mixed up a bit of the muck on the seabed. Still, that doesn't stop these fries from going for a group excursion to the nearby marine megamall.... Here fishy fishy fishy.....

Here's a blenny who got left behind and woke up to find out that the entire family has left for Paris......

This volcano-like structure is actually a huge sea sponge. It may look dormant but actually a lot of activity is going on behind the scene. Every minute about 10 gallon of sea water goes through the tiny pores all over the sponge, and is filtered through individual cells of its microscopic nutrients before being 'ejected' through the volcano mouth back into the sea.

This juvenile yellow boxfish was extremely hard to shoot (a pic) as it kept darting here and there, like the juvenile emperor angelfish. I shall get you soon enough!

These two leaf-like structures are actually fish. Robust ghost pipefish, to be exact. But since they float around and follow the movement of the current and dead leaves, it is very hard to spot them unless are very experienced and you have very keen eyesight.

The Goliath of the nudibranch world: Ceratosoma tenue. It was at least six inches long and has something most other nudis don't: A long muscular tail.

A whole family of clownfish in their anemone home. Hmm.... where's Dory?

A lone pufferfish being cleaned by a bunch of cleaner shrimps at the local cleaning station. Think of it as a spa for fish. Aaaaahhhhh..... that's the life.

Soft Corals come in all shapes, colours and sizes. This is an entire garden of floral soft coral, so named because the stalks look like....flowers. Hehehe

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dive Pics Southern Thailand: Night Dive

Swimming in the dark is essentially what night diving is all about. You switch on your scuba torch light, jump into the dark waters and slowly sink deeper into the twilight depths.

The creatures that you see during night dives differ significantly from the usual day dive variety. This rock lobster was just one of many that we encountered.

Scores of hingebeak shrimps were also found in small rocky crevices and amongst the corals.

Yeah, they're edible. But since this is a protected marine, this red reef crab is well, protected from us but not from his natural predators like sharks and large fish, though.

Just peeking out from under the umbrella of hard corals was this cheerful parrotfish who gladly posed for us. Definitely a candidate for Thailand's Next Top Pelagic Model.

This is another species of cleaner shrimp akin to the hingebeak shrimp. It's so interesting to see them at first scramble away from us and then slowly creep back out when they see that we're not there to have them for lunch.

This fella produced a lot of confusion among the divers as to its identity. It looks and moves like the juvenile sweetlips but it's way to too big to be one (about 10 times larger than normal). Yanni says it's a juvenile baramundi cod while another of the divers guessed it could be a 'teenage' sweetlips. Asther, you leh?

See the two dots on the reef crab? I actually thought someone pulled a prank on this poor guy or perhaps a scientist glued a microchip on it to track its movements. No, the marking is 100% natural and it's probably as a 'fake eye' to scare off its predators, very much like the fake eyes on the wings of a moth or butterfly.

Last but not the least, this cute little bugger is a hermit crab. It differs from 'conventional' crabs in that it only has three pairs of legs instead of four. I was mildly surpised to find that there is even a hermit crab association in America dedicated to education and care for these adorable crustaceans as pets.