Friday, January 26, 2007

Amazing Race Asia Bagus!

I have a confession to make. I am hooked to Amazing Race Asia. While the original US version ("The Amazing Race") has never interested me much, the Asian version held a vested interest for me: there were two Malaysian teams participating, namely the couple Andrew and Syeon; and the all-girl Joe Jer and Zabrina. And the best part is, they're both in the final three! Malaysia boleh!!!!!

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Ok. So, anyway, for the past three months, I have been glued to Astro channel 17 (AXN) every Thursday at 9.00pm for my weekly dose of nail-biting excitement and heartbreaking agony as the teams race through confusing city streets and got down and dirty in mud, sand and even cow-dung performing inane and frustrating tasks just so that they could get to their next pit-stop. The last team to arrive would then be greeted by Fear Factor alumnus Allan Woo, with the now famous announcement, "So-and-so and what's-your-name....... you are the.... last team to arrive...... I'm sorry to say..... that.... you have been eliminated from the race".

My heart goes out to the charmingly overweight Indonesian siblings, Mardy and Marsio (or M&M for short) who have proven that in the race (as in life in general), it takes more than just brute strength and physical ability to get ahead. Their unique blend of intelligence, sibling rivalry and an endearing sense of humour has made them the favourite team of many a viewer all across Asia as evidenced by the amount of fans who wished them well when they were finally eliminated in the penultimate episode last night. Top 4 - not bad for a team whose collective weight almost broke a camel's back (literally) and ran a 4-wheel drive aground in the desert.

And who could forget the Sri Lankan team of Sahran and Howard? In Asia, gay couples obviously don't exist, but they do make great TV, so the producers of ARA came up with the term 'best friends' to describe the combination of Sahran, the hypsiphobic crybaby and his ever patient, ever supportive partner, Howard. It was quite a hoot to see Sahran abseil down the 10 storey Times Square mall, sobbing away and later, in another episode, shriek his way up (and down) one of the limestone hills off Krabi in the shortest of shorts that left almost nothing to the imagination. Hehehe

The villains of this race were of course the sneaky Thai imports of Brits Andy and Laura. In all fairness, they were very good competitors and arguably the best team of the lot. So it was quite a surprise and disappointment when they were prematurely bumped off in the 10th episode when most of everyone had grudgingly expected them to go all the way and even win the Race. They showed good strategy making, levelheadedness and a healthy dose of cunning and wit throughout the race. Still, that they had lost due to dung cakes and taxis that won't stop for them was, in my opinion, just retribution for a team that broke every possible rule in the book, stole other people's taxi and then sneeringly said, "It's a race, mate!".

And then of course, we come to my two favourite teams from Bolehland, one of which is the engaged couple of Andrew and Syeon who are just about the most loving twosome on TV. The concern and support that Andrew showed for Syeon throughout the race is touching - from carrying her piggy back style when she broke her ankle, to offering to take over her task of eating the "Arabian delicacy", this guy has shown himself to be wonderful husband material, on and off the race.

But I reserve my full support for the ultimate underdogs, Joe Jer and Zabrina! This all-girl group has kept me on the edge of my seat every week, wondering if they will survive yet another week as they trudged through their challenges almost always just ahead of the last team. What i liked about them was, of all the competitors, these two probably enjoyed the race the most, as they somehow managed to sit back, relax and gaze with wonder at the fantastic vistas outside their taxi/train/boat throughout their trek across Asia while the others were poring through their guidebooks and bickering about who was at fault the last time they fell behind.

Three teams are left in the race as the show approaches its climatic finale - the two aforementioned Boleh teams and the HK team of Sandy and Francesca, collectively known as San Fran. Fran, a Brit is the epitome of Cool Brittania, displaying class and calm all the way, only showing small cracks in her demeanour when it came to eating competitions - "Can we not eat or drink anything at all while we're in Delhi?". Meanwhile Sandy, her muscle-bound cheshire cat of a Kiwi boyfriend is the can-do guy that , as Zabrina noted, could've run the whole race all by himself. Whether it was crushing hundreds of coconuts in record time or wolfing down fried brains as if it was chicken (he did say it tasted like chicken), this guy is definitely all brawn, all man and all fun.

It'll be a nail-biting finish next week, I'm sure. And statistically, we have a 2 in 3 chance of a Malaysian winning this competition. My money is on Andrew and Syeon, but my heart roots for JoeZab. I can't wait to see what happens. Malaysia Boleh!

UPDATE: Feb 1st 2007

The girls did it!!!! Syabas Joe Jer and Zabrina!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Perfect Conversation

In the perfect conversation
We’re standing at the station
I’m begging you
“Please don’t go”

Funny how things happen when you least expect it. Just yesterday, I had been the happy-go-lucky guy who sniggers at the teenage couple as they sit side by side on the park bench staring into each other’s eyes. For the longest time I was free of such affections and the pain that often accompanied it like the shadow tailing the street lamp on a moonless night.

Yet now, I am dreading every second that passes by, these precious final moments as we head towards the departure gate that will soon separate a pair of hands held together by a desperate inevitability.

Inching closer to the platform, the events of the past twenty four hours flashes before my eyes. I can't help but feel a twinge of pain knowing that it will all end soon.


In this perfect conversation
Here in my imagination
Somehow I know just when
to say what’s right...

When our eyes had first met in the bookshop just around the corner from my house, my heart skipped a beat. As she held out her hands and introduced herself, I couldn’t help but notice her blue eyes looking straight at me, the way they sparkled and pierced through my soul. As I stuttered out my name, she smiled, tilted her head ever so slightly and gently squeezed my hand. I was a goner.

I still cannot remember what it was that I ordered for dinner that night, heck, I can’t even remember if I ate anything at all. All I could think of was how sweet her voice was, as she told me about her day in the city, the assignment that she needed to complete before she had to fly back home tomorrow for a board meeting the following week. Home, unfortunately, was a thousand miles away.


“Funny”, she says whimsically as she paused and turned to me, “I know it’s only been one day… but I feel as though we’ve known each other for a very long time.” My heart broke right then and there.

“Promise me you’ll write?”

“Yes,” I said as I unconsciously felt for the piece of paper that bore her email address and phone number tucked in my shirt pocket, making sure it was still there.


In this perfect conversation
Here in my imagination
I know just what I’m losing
Before this plane I'm on starts moving
I’m running through the door to hold you tight

Even now, her pleasantly endearing laughter when I told her of my encounter with the bank teller, rings in my ears like the sweetest symphony an orchestra could perform.

I guess we both knew that deep down inside, this could never be. Still, last night as we lay in each others' arms, her breath warm and sweet on my cheek, I silently thanked God that even if it was for just one night, I was eternally grateful.

“Ok. This is it”.

She puts down her bags and I open my arms and reach out to her. We hug tightly, neither one of us wanting to let go, wishing that this moment would last a little bit longer. I take in her smell, trying to remember how she breathed and the feel of her soft hair falling around the nape of my neck.

When we finally break apart, she looks up at me, again with those incredible blue eyes.

“Thank you for a wonderful time. I’ll never forget you.”

I could only smile.

As she hands the officer her passport and then walk through the gate, I stand there, unable to move, seeing a part of my heart walk away forever. She turns her head back to me and mouths a goodbye. And then, just like that, she was gone.

All that I can hear now
So loud and so clear now
Are the words I could not seem to find
And everything I didn’t say
Keeps coming back
A mile at a time

The drive back home on the highway is quiet, with only the sound of the a/c to puncture the silence in my heart. I console myself that it would never work out between us. For one thing the distance would be a barrier that will wear both of us down even before anything can blossom. Yes, it was for the best. Just two ships that crossed paths in the night, on different courses, to different destinations.

Then, the phone beeps, signaling a text message. I looked at the screen. It’s from her.

“Thanks for everything. I’m boarding the plane now….”

Oh the perfect conversation always ends
before we say…


Adapted from "The Perfect Conversation" by Mark Wills.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Taller, Stronger, Better

It has been a tumultuous week for me, filled with confusion, expectations unmet, unfamiliar emotions and unwelcome disappointments. Areas in my life I thought I had understood and put under control was suddenly rocked to its core and only then did I realise I have been too complacent in dealing with them. Perhaps I had put off dealing with it for far too long that when it finally did come, I was unprepared for its force and intensity.

This song by Guy Sebastian was playing on my iPod while I was contemplating the week's events. I wish to share it with everyone because its lyrics gave me much comfort and in a way, helped me to face the music bravely.

Taller, Stronger, Better

I've met the darkness
Been held by the night
Lonely was there in my arms
I've been with broken
I've stared in her eyes
Emptiness left me this scarred
But I heard your voice
Calling me out of the cold

I've walked through fire so I could become
All that you said I could be
And now my breath has a reason
My sky has a sun
Coz in you I've found all that I need
Your touch revived me
It was your love that opened my eyes

Because I broke through the rain
Stood through the storm
Now I know I remain
And I can do the impossible
I can reach the unreachable
It's my time
I will rise and live
And I can go higher
I know I will soar
I'm taller
I'm stronger
I'm better then before....

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Year Of The Flying Pig

Airasia has just launched their annual Free Seats Promotion yesterday. Basically, they offer 1 million individual seats to any of their flights to any destination for free (excluding airport tax of course)between April and October 2007 . Members or those who subscribe to their Red Alert newsletter were informed about this offer a whole 24 hours earlier, so they could get a head start before the lines got really jammed up.

I am not a member, but was informed of this deal by a good friend (God bless you, Vic!) just as I was getting into my car to head back home! Imagine the horror I felt as I realised that I would be wasting precious time driving home instead of logging on the Airasia website trying to get free tics! hehehe

So I sped down to the nearest Starbucks and armed with a Venti Mocha latte, I was ready to do battle with all the kiasu budget travellers to grab the best seats (read: free) in the house before they're all snapped up.

But where to go? And when? I was on the phone with just about everyone I could tolerate on a holiday, asking if they're interested to join me on a dive trip, a short weekend hop to Bangkok, a group get-together in Hanoi etc, etc. After having decided on a few dates and destinations, we (I and sbanboy - we joined forces coz two is definitely better than one) seized upon for tics to Kuala Terengganu, Hanoi and Siem Reap for starters.

Two and a half hours (and three cups of venti latte and three trips to the bathroom) later, all we could show for were two nearly completed transactions that went nowhere and a warning from HSBC stating that my account activity was erratic and my card had only one final chance at an online transaction before it will be forever barred. Apparently the website was so swamped with online customers that their servers kinda went haywire. Damm you Airasia customers!

Then, just as the Starbucks shutters were coming down, sbanboy beeped me with the good news - we got Siem Reap for August! For FREE! Well the tics were free, but we still had to pay RM180 for the airport taxes.

By the end of the whole fiasco, I had booked myself tics for Siem Reap, Kuala Terengganu (Redang), Hanoi and Bali. Most of them free on at least one leg of the journey!Yiippee!

Oh dear, how am I supposed to go on four holidays in six months????

Monday, January 08, 2007

Four movies and a funeral

It has been a rather interesting weekend this past couple of days. Thanks to the Taiwan earthquake, I still couldn't do much on the internet, so I suddenly had quite a bit of time on my hands. What to do, what to do?

Friday night, I decided to go to the cinema for a late night movie and the only movie that looked interesting enough was "Night At The Museum" starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams. It's a simple tale of a night watchman who discovers that all the exhibits in the museum comes to life at night. Although it didn't garner very positive reviews, I found the movie to be quite funny and the gags, while almost slapstick, was effective thanks to the seamless CGI effects. Memorable minor characters like a T-rex skeleton who thinks he's a dog, an Easter Island statue who loves bubble gum and a Neanderthal man who loves to eat the fire extinguisher chemical (like spraying cream from a can into your mouth) made for an enjoyable two hours that had the entire audience in stitches most of the time. I guess that goes to show that you can't really trust the critics.

Saturday: Caught up with an old friend for a cuppa and ended up watching "Children Of Men" on DVD at his place. I actually wasn't too keen to watch it yet as I was still halfway through the book. I shouldn't have worried, for even though the premise of the movie was based on the book, the story itself was quite different. Alfonso Cuarón (of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban fame) completely stripped the story to its bare essentials and then reworked in new details and upped the pacing and shock value with scenes of bombs going off in the middle of the city and of 'Abu Ghraib'esque torture that were almost too real for comfort. This is a bleak and yet intense movie about humanity in the face of hopelessness, that has a ring of familiarity in our post 9/11 world today. It achieved 90% 'freshness" on the 'tomatometer' scale at the Rotten Tomatoes website. I guess this is the type of movies that critics would appreciate and for once, I'm glad they do. Highly recommended.

When I got home later that night, "The Sixth Sense" was on Astro. Try as I might, I couldn't help but sit my bum down in front of the television for a few minutes if only to see Haley Joel Osment utter those famous words,"...I see dead people...". Well, those 'few minures' turned into two and a half hours as I once again marvelled at the moodily effective screenplay and superb performances of the two lead characters as they went through their journey of discovery and acceptance of their roles in the netherworld. In contrast to the "Children Of Men", this was a more subtle and quiet movie even though the subject matter was of a more chilling kind.

Early Sunday morning, I went for the early church service which also doubled as an informal wake for an elderly church member who had recently passed away. It was of course a sombre affair and although I did not know the deceased personally, I too was saddened by his passing. Instinctively I resolved to appreciate my loved ones more and to express my love for them every chance I get before it's too late.

Later that evening, as the weekend was winding to a close, I decided to do a mini spring cleaning for my room. Tucked away in one corner was a pile of DVDs that I recently bought, waiting to be viewed. After an intensely sombre couple of days, I decided to wind down by watching a light and more uplifting movie: Take The Lead. It's based on the true story of Pierre Dulaine, a ballroom dance teacher who strives to impart some basic life lessons to a bunch of inner city teenagers on the verge of deliquency. Think 'To Sir With Love' with a touch of tango and fox-trot. Variety magazine summed up this movie pretty well,"...a well-intentioned, feel-good urban tale of adversities overcome... (complete with a) diverse mix of music, people, inspiring messages and the gentility imparted by star Antonio Banderas."

All in all, I think this was a rather memorable weekend. I caught up with a good friend, celebrated the full life of a church member, did some much needed spring cleaning and yet, still found time to enjoy not one, not two but FOUR good movies, critics notwithstanding.

Hmmm...maybe, not having the internet isn't such a bad thing after all. :-)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Old Melaka

A fortnight ago, I was at Jonker street (again) with the guys to take some pictures of Old Malacca. It gave me a chance to get reacquainted with my camera. Even though I've had it for about a year now, only recently have I gotten to try out its more intricate features like the Aperture and Shutter Speed modes.

Jonker Street is the name given to an antiquated part of Malacca which housed the Straits Chinese or the Baba Nyonya community. The unique of southern Chinese and local Malay culture is evident in the language, food, lifestyle and architecture of the area.

The Melaka local government is taking great pains to conserve the beautiful architecture of the shophouses and places of worship. A number of local companies also have 'adopted' some of these late 18th century buildings as part of their community efforts and I salute them for their contribution to our nation's heritage.

This palace belongs to a very rich Malacca businessman and legend has it that he tore down the entire building and rebuilt it from the ground up in memory of his beloved wife, sort of like his Taj Mahal.

The Eng Choon Society building which has recently undergone some restoration and renovation works is a fantastic example of Chinese architecture and art. Motifs of dragons and phoenices adds a spiritual dimension to its old-world charm.

Dragons are important in the chinese culture as they symbolise strength, virility and victory. Personally I felt rather empowered as I stood in the hallway with two concrete pillaars shaped like a pair of dragons.... must be the 'chi' rubbing off on me. Hehehe

As we were happily snapping away, it's easy to forget that people actually live in some of these ancient buildings, and not all of the inhabitants were happy to see us take pictures of their houses. Most of these buildings, however, have already been turned into shophouses dealing in antiques, Nonya restaurants and boutique hotels.

As we were walking along the picturesque streets, we couldn't help but notice numerous rickshaws (beca) ferrying a tourist or two honking or jingling their bells as they passed us by. They were very garishly decorated and some even had the radio blaring from a makeshift stereo system on the roof of the rickshaw. This one (top) was, in my opinion, the best decorated one, complete with a picture of the Prime Minister of Malaysia on the back!

We stumbled onto a Nonya delicacies 'factory', situated some ways from the main street. This was where they make the famous multihued delicacies and as soon we saw these colourful and aromatic 'kueh's on parade, our mouths watered! What a way to end our day trip - high tea with oodles and oodles of sweet cakes!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Hello, double-oh-seven!

I've finally got my iBook back yesterday after a whole week at the Apple Maintenance Centre for some minor repairs (but that's another story). And just in time to find out that the internet connection is and will be compromised for the foreseeable future because of damage done to the undersea telecommunication cables due to the Taiwan earthquake on Boxing Day. Hmmm.... did anybody realise that it happened exactly two years after the Indian Ocean tsunami?

Anyway, last night (New Year's eve), I went for a NYE dinner at Miss Read's in Bangsar with the usual suspects (and then some). For the past five years, it has become a tradition for us to get together on the final day of year for a time of celebration, reminiscence and resolutions for the coming year. Usually it would be at one of our places and we would have a major dinner bash but this year, we decided to just let someone else do the cooking.

Dinner was an enjoyably mellow affair as befitting the occasion as we traded stories about our most memorable events of 2006 amid laughter, Vietnamese chicken salad and lemonade. The only brief low-point was when Mook received news of the bomb blasts that rocked Bangkok. We all enjoyed our holiday in BKK this year and it was sad to hear of the unrest, wondering about the potential damaging effect it will have on Thailand.

Afterwards, we all adjourned to TK's place high up at Bukit Pantai to await the fireworks. The view from his balcony and bedroom was, to borrow Mastercard's slogan, priceless. The entire city was beautifully lit up in anticipation of the new year. The TM tower never looked more impressive.

While waiting for the grand fireworks spectacle, we were treated to the most exquisite homemade tiramisu (thanks Edwin!). Words could not describe how delicious it was and all of us were glad we did not have that last marble cheesecake at the restaurant.

Before we knew it, midnight was upon us and all of us scrambled to the balcony to enjoy the million-ringgit fireworks display.

The 20 minute spectacle was quite impressive and rather loud too, as we could hear the loud bangs and felt the tremors from where we were which was miles away from the 'epicentre'.

Cameras were merrily snapping away amid exclamations of 'ooh's and 'aahh's and I'm glad that we all have not gotten too blasé about it even though it was an annual affair.

This year's celebrations was a bit muted as the usual New Year fireworks around KLCC (foreground left) was noticeably absent because the organisers decided to cancel it out of respect for the Aidil Adha and also in deference to the flood victims in Johor and Melaka.

However the celebrations in Bukit Bintang as well as in 1U and The Curve went on as scheduled.

I can't think of any other place to spend the final moments of the year than with some of my best and most cherished buddies. Here's to a wonderful and prosperous double-oh-seven!