Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year 2009

Here's a to a joyous 2009 and may the new year bring you lots of good cheer, fabulous health and abundant wealth!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Recap 2008: A Few Of My Favourite Things

2008 was definitely a very eventful year for me. The first half of the year was racked with one misfortune after another. I won't bother to recount them anymore but suffice to say that I am really really glad to see this annus horibilis go the way of the dodo. Instead, I prefer to count my blessings and in spite of it all, I have been blessed plenty this year as well. ;) So without further ado, here is my list of my favourite things this year.

1. Favourite Gadget: Canon G9

My trusty S80 is still working (or was, as the lens cap jammed recently and I have yet to get it back from the repair guys) but the problem was with the underwater casing. I had been having trouble with the buttons which seemed to not work the moment I hit the waves. Since they've decommissioned this camera, instead of finding a replacement casing, I decided to get an entirely new camera, one which has been getting rave reviews by underwater photography enthusiasts here in Malaysia and Singapore. With 0.0 cm super-macro capabilities and the clincher: Advanced Image Stabiliser (which was sorely lacking in the S80), I could see why. I tried it out in Komodo back in November and the results were, if I may say so, breathtaking!

2. Favourite Album Track: Permanent (David Cook)

You guys absolutely have to check out this beautiful, haunting and personal song written and performed by the American Idol 2008, David Cook in his new self-titled album. The first time I heard it, I remember I was in my car, and as the first few lines came on the car speakers, ".... Is this the moment when I look you in the eye, and break my promise that you'll never see me cry.....", I stopped the car by the kerb and before long I had tears welling up. This song was written specially for his cancer-stricken brother and his emotion-laden vocals really got to me. I still get get misty eyed every time this song comes on my iPod.

3. Favourite Person: Lynn

The camwhore, we called her. She burst into my life as the fun-loving, obscenity spewing, chain smoking, beer guzzling underwater supermodel that one would find hard to forget long after the last morsel of compressed air was exhaled into the blue waters. We had so much fun the first time round (in Weh) that plans were underway for an encore adventure even before we had finished packing our gear back into our divebags. So Dive 2.0 in Komodo ensued six months later, and Lynn was, in the words of Tyra Banks, "fierce!" as she produced shot after shot of utter posing brilliance against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean. Made me forget I was there for the fishies. Well... almost.

4. Favourite Experience: Being part of Election '08 that shook the entire country

It was a watershed event for Malaysia and one which had everybody at the edge of their seat as the election results trickled in, seat by seat, polling station by polling station. Dissatisfaction with the ruling coalition's recent performance coupled with the economic slowdown made the voters long for a change of guard, in the hopes of better governance, transparency and an end to corruption and cronyism that had held the country back in the global race for economic development. The 'landslide' victory of the opposition has given me hope that this nation has finally grown up and is neither afraid nor too ignorant to voice its opinion and move forward into future as one people, and not as Malays, Chinese, Indians or Lain-lain.

5. Favourite Book: The Power Of Now

Long before Oprah made Eckhart Tolle a global phenomenon when she publicly supported his self-help masterpiece, A New Earth, I had already been mesmerised by the concepts he expounded in his previous book, The Power Of Now, which arguably was the self-help bible that led to 'Earth'. His easily digestible delivery of what was perhaps very profoundly revolutionary ideas about how we, human beings, have become caught up and then enslaved by our own minds, helped me to understand why and how I had become so bogged down with all the minute daily grievances and as a result, missing out on what was really important. He helped me to appreciate all that Life has to offer and allowed me to once again "smell the roses by the roadside". Read it, or try A New Earth. It's, in a word, mind-blowing.

6. Favourite Amazing Race Team: Pam and Van

And from my favourite show of year, the Asian edition of the Amazing Race, comes my favourite team, the Malaysian sisters, Pamela And Vanessa Chong. I could never tell them apart, not because they looked alike, but because both were equally bumbling comics which made the second season of the show utterly enjoyable. Kudos to them who, despite multiple traffic infractions, a minor head concussion and countless Aiyoh!s, managed to snag the first runner-up spot and even beat the hot favourites, Marc and Rovilson of the Phillipines to the finish line. Malaysia boleh!

7. Favourite Youtube video: Ken Lee

No words can describe the hilarity of this clueless Bulgarian Idol contestant who, thanks to youtube is now even more famous that the eventual winner of that programme. Ok, all together now..."Ken Lee!!!!.... Tulibu dibu douchoo......"

8. Favourite FB Application: Wordscrapper

A pair of Indian computer programmers was shot into the limelight (not for entirely good reasons) when their Facebook application Scrabulous veered too close to its real-life boardgame ancestor, Scrabble. The resulting legal wrangling between the boys and the American copyright owners of Scrabble gave birth to the Wordscrapper that is currently available only to non-american users of FB. Its a game with similar rules and features to Scrabulous / Scrabble but with the bonus tiles randomly spread out over the board. I am stoked everytime I get to use a combination of quadruple and quintuple word score tiles to make a word worth .. oh say.. 6oo points! Wicked!

9. Favourite Movie: Wall*E

Everybody's favourite trash compacter came to life in Pixar's lovable animation classic of 2008, Wall*E. In a post-apocolyptic Earth (caused by none other than Mankind's own folly of unbridled garbage production), this lone recycling robot showed us how one person (or robot) can make a difference in our struggle to make Earth habitable again for everyone. My favourite scene has got to be the one where he has an outer-space rendezvous with his more advanced girl-robot-friend, Eve, charming her pants off with nothing more than a fire extinguisher and his peculiar sense of wit and humour.

10. Favourite Dessert: Mango On Sticky Rice

No list of mine would be complete without at least one gastronomic entry. And this year no other dessert was more delicious or memorable that the famous Thai delicacy Mango on Sticky rice. Funnily enough we had to hunt for almost two hours under the sweltering Bangkok sun for this dessert that oddly enough, not many locals (well at least not the ones at Chatuchak) knew about. Hmm... could this be another one of those tourist traps that the Thais secretly laugh at us about? No matter, I would gladly be the laughing stock so long as I can have my sinfully sweet concoction of fresh mango and glutinous rice topped with rich coconut cream.

And so there you have it. My favourite people, places, things and food for this past year. I am confident that next year, God willing, will be yet another memorable one and until then, I wish everyone a Happy 2009 and may the new year usher in lots of good health, great wealth and lovely memories for one and all.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Recap 2008: Favourite Songs

My, my, how time flies. I can't believe it's almost twelve months since the last time I had to compile a list of favourites (and not-so-favourites) for the year. It's been a roller coaster of a year for me and personally I am quite happy to see the end of 2008. New beginnings, new hopes, new life. But before that, as always, I have listed the top 10 songs that have burned a hole through my iPod headphones and whose lyrics are forever etched onto my brain.

10. Here You Come Again - Carly Smithson
Before this, the only song from Dolly Parton I actually liked was I Will Always Love You and even that, I only listened to the Whitney Houston version. Carly's rendition of what was originally a midtempo and oddly cheerful song on the American Idol stage early this year was and still is one of my favourite 'heartbreak' songs for 2008, the drama queen that I am. There! I've said it!

9. Us Against The World - Westlife
It's my guilty pleasure, Westlife. I've always enjoyed their cheesy renditions of other people's songs and even more cheesy renditions of their own originals. One can only take so much of edgy punk rock before returning to more familiar albeit sticky sweet ear candy and Westlife does it for me.

8. Still Learning How To Bend - Gary Allan
Before we all start getting any ideas, no, this is not a song about 'coming out'. He is actually singing about dealing with the ghosts of relationships past and learning to move on and place his trust in love again. The line that gets to me the most has got to be this:

I'm just trying to understand
It's all in someone else's hands
There's always been a bigger plan
But I don't need to understand....

7. In My Arms - Kylie Minogue
Sometimes a suitable music video adds a visual dimension to a song thereby making it much more interesting and memorable. This was definitely the case for In My Arms, which, prior to the release of the music video, had not caught my attention much. The video was a very colourful palette of dance moves, acrobatic contortions and of course the effervescent Ms Minogue playfully beckoning us all to go straight into her arms! Pure pop magic!

6. I Kissed A Girl - Katy Perry
This song gained notoriety for seemingly promoting lesbianism but if you listen to the lyrics carefully, Katy was in fact doing the exact opposite, ie. making girl-on-girl action sound risque and somewhat of a forbidden fruit. Seems like her gospel roots still wield some influence over her after all. Oh, to the Malaysian Censorship Board, please, don't butcher the song and make the poor girl sing, "...I kissed [silence]... and I liked it..."!

5. Always Be My Baby - David Cook
Who knew that this Mariah Carey classic was an emo-rock ballad just waiting to happen? Kudos to this year's AI for such an original performance that blew the rest of the competition out of the water (yes even cute-as-a-button David Archuleta) and made Daughtry seem so five minutes ago.

4. This Is Me You're Talking To - Trisha Yearwood
Getting married to Garth Brooks, the most powerful country artiste in Nashville did wonders to reviving Trisha's career, what with a Grammy nomination for the album "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love" and a Best Country Vocal Performance Female for this song, my favourite track off the album. Her sincere and understated rendition of this song about the awkwardness when one meets an ex-lover was poignant and heartfelt.

3. Don't - Billy Currington
I hated the video. The director's attempt to make this song about a guy pleading with his newfound love not to leave so soon, into a 70's Starsky and Hutch car chase sequence just didn't quite work, making the entire video look dated and B-grade-ish. The song, however, was vintage Billy, with that lazy drawl and come hither tone that would make any girl go weak in the knees.

2. Viva La Vida - Coldplay
I have never been a fan of Coldplay's music, but this song... man, this song was so good I have been playing it non-stop in my car for months on end. Everything about it screams Record of The Year in next year's Grammys from the insightful lyrics to the anthemic melody to the U2-esque production. Wo-oh-oh-oh-oooooooooh......

And the #1 song of the year is......

1. Mercy - Duffy
I first heard this song in, of all places, a provincial market in Solo, Indonesia! Back then she was just breaking out onto the UK pop charts and when I got back, I hunted high and low for the song only to end up purchasing it off iTunes. For those of you who don't have a clue about Duffy, just imagine Amy Winehouse on helium singing the 60's. Weird, I know, but it works. Big time! Yeh...yeh...yeh!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Light On!

This is the music video to David Cook's latest single, Light On. It's the lead single from his self-titled major label debut CD that is due out Nov 18th. Enjoy!

Light On

Never really said too much
Afraid it wouldn't be enough
Just try to keep my spirits up
When there's no point in grieving
Doesn't matter anyway
Words could never make me stay
Words will never take my place
When you know I'm leaving

Try to leave a light on when I'm gone
Something I rely on to get home
One I can feel at night
A naked light, a fire to keep me warm
Try to leave a light on when I'm gone
Even in the daylight, shine on
And when it's late at night you can look inside
You won't feel so alone

You know we've been down that road
What seems a thousand times before
My back to a closing door and my eyes to the seasons
That roll out underneath my heels
And you don't know how bad it feels
To leave the only one that I have ever believed in


Sometimes it feels like we've run out of luck
When the signal keeps on breaking up
When the wires cross in my brain
You'll start my heart again
When I come along

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Manila Part 1: The non-halal entry

Last Merdeka weekend, I got talked into going for a short holiday in the capital city of the Phillipines, Manila. To be honest, I had little or no expectations about this place and from what I heard about it, it was no Bangkok in terms of things to do or places to see.

What Manila did have in common with BKK tho, was the abundance of roast pork. EVERYWHERE.

And they had it in all shapes, sizes and flavours. And cheap too. Imagine, a whole slab of succulent roast pork for only RM3.50 or US$1!!!!

They roased the meat the traditional way, over a huge vat of charcoal to lock in that smoky flavour.... my mouth waters at the thought of it. :p

The best (or worst, depending on how you view it) part of it was the thick fatty portion of the meat left intact thus rendering my diet non-existant.

And if you weren't porkily inclined, there's also the roast chicken. Kinda reminds me of 'ayam golek' back home.

Served in a banana leaf wrapper, the freshly roasted pork was, in a word, heavenly. Especially when dipped in the special barbacue sauce on the side.

What better way to celebrate my first evening in Manila than a leisurely stroll along the breezy and picturesque Manila Bay esplanade while munching on cholesterol laden, artery clogging, succulent and utterly delicious roast pork. :p

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bangkok 2008: Tale of Two Temples or How We Got Taken For A Ride

Between The Grand Palace and Wat Pho (just next door) we got talked into taking a tuk-tuk on a two hour tour of the 'other' temples in Bangkok as Wat Pho was 'closed' for the afternoon due to a religious ceremony taking place that day.

So there we were being hustled through the narrow streets of downtown Bangkok, almost getting into collisions with other tuk tuks and cars and buses and even bicycles, till we arrived at the Marble Temple or Wat Benchamabopit.

Constructed by King Chulalongkorn in 1901, it is made of Italian white marble and is adorned with European accents such as stained glass windows and Roman architecture. Being one of the lesser known temples, it was almost deserted, which was a welcome respite for us.

The main hall was quite small by Bangkok temples standards, but no less beautiful in a trippy sort of way with its huge golden Buddha statue, incense burning and monks chanting away in the corner. Legend has it that the ashes of King Chulalongkorn is buried underneath the statue.

Surrounding the central courtyard was a collection of life-sized bronze Buddha statues, collected from various locations throughout Thailand, Indochina and other Buddhist kingdoms.

The one I found most unforgettable was this statue of the Emaciated Buddha, symbolising an aging deity who has just undergone months of fasting and uninterrupted meditation.

There was a scenic moat around the temple, complete with a very red bridge and the 'three gabled water pavillion'.

OK, back to the main businiess at hand. After being literally taken for a ride, we arrived back at the front gates of Wat Pho, only to discover that there wasn't any 'special religious ceremony' going on that day and the temple was open all day long.

Wat Pho is the oldest and largest wat / temple in Bangkok and is home to more than 1000 Buddha images and statues, and also to a few not so Buddha statues.

Wat Pho is also home to the largest reclining Buddha statue in the world! It's so huge, my camera couldn't take it all in one shot!

One thing I liked about the temple was that because the statue was so bigass big, the hall that housed the Buddha had to be even bigass bigger. And as a result the temple was very airy, shady and cool, perfect for people like me who sweat buckets at the mere suggestion of the sun!

A row of big bronze urns lined the temple walls. Worshippers purchase a certain amount of beads and drop the beads one by one into the urns as they chant their prayers around the statue.

Outside the main temple stood many stupas and chedis that look like pyramids but with really long and pointy pinnacles.

Beauty is definitely in the detail when it comes to Thai temple architecture. If I wasn't already all 'templed out', I'd use my Tamron zoom lens to take shot after shot of the intricate desings and motifs that adorn every square inch of the temple walls, pillars and roofs.

And finally, what better way to end the day than with a much deserved traditional Thai massage complete with herbal steam bath? Plus, the massage hall was airconditioned as well! Phhwoar!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bangkok 2008: The Royal Palace

The first place we visited was of course the first on every tourist's list: The Grand Palace. This complex of buildings was the hub of Royal and government activity way back in the 18th and 19th century and is also the site of the Wat Phra Kaew which houses the Emerald Buddha.

The palace was built during the reign of King Rama I along the eastern banks of the Chao Phraya river and is enclosed on its inland sides by canals, making it technically an island.

As we entered the Emerald Temple, we were greeted by this 15-foot bronze statue of a Hindu hermit who is credited with inventing Yoga.

It must have been a special religious day, as there were throngs of Buddhist worshippers burning joss sticks and kneeling in prayer everywhere in the temple complex.

Its quite easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the gaudy towers that attack your senses with their golden walls and intricate designs especially on the red tiled roofs and domes that rise high up to pierce the blue sky.

It was a very sunny day... a bit too sunny for my liking. So we were only too glad to seek shelter in this cool corridor that seemed deserted for all of five minutes before a group of really loud Chinese tourists decided they too had enough of the Bangkok sun and happily muscled their way in.

All throughout the temple are statues that depict various Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese deities, emplyed to either ward off evil, scare off would-be enemies and protect the monks as well as the Royal family.

Perhaps the most eye-popping temple is the Phra Sri Ratana Chedi which is completely covered in gold mirrored tiles. According to the guide, this temple houses a piece of the Buddha's breastbone.

There were so many shrines built, all so beautifully crafted in gold, it was like bathing in a sea of yellow everywhere I looked.

Here's a familiar sight - a miniature replica of the Angkor Wat. Actually Angkor Wat sits on land once part of the Siam empire until it fell into Khmer hands. In fact, Siem Reap, the town beside the Angkor temples means 'Siamese Defeat'.

This five headed serpent is the Siamese version of the Naga, employed to guard the entrance of the temple... were these 'demons', or yaksas which are more Hindu than Buddhist, but nonetheless adds an otherworldly charm to an already exotic landscape.

This is a kinnorn (kinnari) which is a mythological creature that is half human and half bird (and all babe!) that is derived from Buddhist and Hindu mythology and mentioned in various ancient texts like the Mahabhrata and Lotus Sutra.

I think these people were all crowded in the main temple area as much for the prayers as for the cool shade. Bangkok sun is brutal and the fact that it had rained a little earlier on made it even more stiflingly humid.

The Royal Pantheon houses life-sized statues of the Chakri kings, which is unfortunately only open one day a year to visitors , on Chakri Day, April 6th. And since my watch showed it wasn't April 6th, I had to be satisfied with just gawking at the multicoloured walls and contrasting red and green tiles that make up the gigantic roof structure.

Ah... there's nothing like a brief respite in a shady courtyard with the majestic multihued chedis as a backdrop. Why, the monotone of the monks' chants almost lulled me to sleep.

Then I found out it wasn't the monks but groups of schoolgirls, taking turns to recite from a prayer book!

Alas, it was time to head out from whence we came. But not before bidding adieu to a pair of dedicated Royal guards who were all gallant and yet stern whilst performing the changing of the guards ceremony.