Monday, 31 December 2007

Red hot chilli pepper

I was told that this is an extremely hot chilli pepper. I was given just this one sample. I don't know what's this variety but if I'm correct, this may well turn out to be the famed Dorset Naga which is the hottest chilli in the world, measuring 1,598,227 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). It's a native plant of Nagaland in Bangladesh. I'll be trying to grow it. Already, I've snipped open the chilli and sown the seeds in a pot. I've also put the chilli to the tastebud test. Yes, it's true. It's extremely hot.

Oh, by the way, here are two humongously huge chilli peppers that I saw at the Gold Coast in Australia last month. I don't know how hot they are but knowing the average taste of Westerners, their chillies are usually nothing much to shout about.

Contrast them with the local favourite: the Malaysian chilli padi. Though they're small about 3cm long without the stalk), they pack a mighty mean wallop, measuring between 50,000 and 100,000 SHU. While not as potent as the Dorset Naga, by any measure that's enough to bring tears to many locals' eyes.

And this is the white variety of the Malaysian chilli padi. Still on the plant. They are equally potent.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Mealybug infestation

In the past few days, I had noticed but not paid much attention to some fluffy white stuff that clung to one of my orchid plants. Not until today, anyway. The white fluff kept on appearing and lodging itself so finally, I had no choice by to take a real good look at it. Imagine what I found!

These are called mealybugs: tiny slow-moving white insects, measuring 2mm-4mm long, that feed on plant sap. I was alarmed. I had no idea how to rid the plant of these insects in the most practical way. Searching through the Internet, there were various suggestions on the types of insecticides I could use but I wouldn't know where to get them locally.

Then I struck on an idea. Maybe, it can be used on a temporary basis until I could find a more permanent solution. Why not try to dislodge the pests with a jet of water, forceful enough to dislodge the pests from the nooks and crannies on the plant without damaging it. So I tried just that and now, the plant looks clean. I'll have to monitor the plant daily for the next week or so to make sure that the pests are eliminated. If not, it's the water treatment again...

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Rain or shine?

There is no greater contrast than the weather forecast from the two big rivals in the international broadcast arena. I was looking for the weather forecast for Penang and had seen this satellite image of the western Pacific.

According to the CNN, there'd be rain every day in Penang until next week.

However, the BBC has a completely different analysis on the weather. It's forecast until this Sunday showed bright sunny days ahead. Which broadcaster will be right? Take your pick...

UPDATE: The BBC was right, everyday! Thursday until today (Sunday), there hasn't been a spot of rain.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Second day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas ...

... what Christmas? It's over! Traders are already hawking their Chinese New Year wares at the morning markets!

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

First day of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas ...
... I received this fantastic pair of toe socks to keep my little pinkies warm in the office!

Arch at Buddhist hermitage in Lunas

The Buddhist Hermitage Lunas is adding an arch at its entrance. It's presently being constructed at a cost of about RM58,000. When I went to the hermitage recently, I saw that the construction was already in full swing. There'll be three stupas on top of the arch.

These are some of the cement decorations that will be put up on the arch. Each piece has been meticulously prepared by craftsmen from Burma. I saw many of these Burmese people at the hermitage.

Here's one of them at work (above) and below, we see another of the Burmese craftsmen working on the designs.

Climbing BM Hill again

Made another climb up the hill at Cherok To'Kun today. Again, I used the less travelled hiking trail that took me into the dense undergrowth. But even if this trail is less popular with folks, there were quite a lot of people overtaking me on the way up or crossing my path on their way down.

It was so peaceful and quiet on this trail that I could positively hear my hard breathing as I huffed and puffed to haul myself up. Here's how picturesque it could be on the trail.

There are two things I learnt during this climb. First, one climb is never the same as another even if you trod along the same path. Unlike my previous climb, I found myself out of breath! Second, never bend down and stand up too many times, and never try to look up, down and everywhere if you are not fit enough because coupled with your panting - a sign that you already lack oxygen in your bloodstream - chances are very great that you will lose your equilibrium. Your head will swim. It was a totally surreal experience. I felt like throwing up, passing gas and urinating all at the same time. I had to rest for some 20 minutes with my eyes shut before I could recover sufficiently to continue along the way. Here was where I rested:

Moon, Mars in celestial opposition

So...did you witness this rare celestial sight of the full moon and a fiery Mars last night? I stepped out of the house last evening at about 11pm into a bright, moonlit night to take some photographs. The moon was just above my rooftop while the Red Planet was the tiny dot above and to the left of the moon. Mars will not look so large or luminous again until 2016.

Mars is so prominent in the night sky because it is in opposition, which means it is directly opposite to the sun from Earth's point of view. Hence, just like the full moon, we are seeing the planet's surface totally bathed in the sunlight. This happens every 26 months but what's special about last night was that Mars is just about 64 million kilometres from us. That's about as close as Earth and Mars will ever get in our lifetime.

While I was photographing this rare sight, I also trained my camera on the moon itself. Looks impressive, right? The secret is, I cheated. I used the camera's 4x digital zoom on top of its 12x optical zoom to get this close-up image. But yes, while you can see many details, the sharpness of using a digital zoom is very much less than impressive.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas revellry

It's Christmas time and the shopping malls are all decked up in the festive mood. Here's what you'll see in Metrojaya at the Island Plaza, Tanjung Tokong.

Inside the department store on Saturday, a group of carol singers from the Eden Handicap Centre were in full festive uniform and singing their lungs out in feisty revellry. (I bumped into them again at the Queensbay Mall on Sunday.)

While outside the department store, this group of singers from the Penang Cheshire Home, not to be outdone, were entertaining the shoppers and visitors with their own renditions of Christmas songs.

This festive period, please give a thought to the old and disabled. They have a right to live a normal life. They only want to be as normal as the person next to you. Bring some cheer to them and in return, enjoy the cheer they give back to you.

Long night moon

I took these photographs at about 11.15pm last night. The first picture was taken with my camera, the Dimage z5, set at automatic with full zoom. As you can see, the Long Night Moon was very bright. I was surprised to catch the dark shadows on the moon. Does this remind you of the moon rabbit?

In this second photograph, I decided to see my camera to manual mode. The aperture was opened at its fullest (3.5 f-stops) while I set the shutter speed to about four seconds. I made sure to brace myself against a wall for support again hand shakes. I was lucky with this shot because the rest turned out blurry. What's nice about this shot was the tiny, weeny dot of light in the lower right of the picture. You'll need to look very closely to see it. It's clearer if you click on the picture to download a larger resolution. At this exposure, the moon looked really bright.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Moon over Penang

There's actually very little to describe about this nice photograph of the moon that I snapped at the beach last night (22 Dec 2007). I'll let the picture do most of the talking. It was so bright that you could see the clouds and the halo around the moon.

According to the Almanac, the moon was at its perigee, meaning it was at its closest to earth. The Almanac also says the moon will be at opposition in two days' time, meaning it will be opposite the sun in our sky. Will this sun-earth-moon configuration bring about another spate of earthquakes here? It need not be on 24 Dec for this to happen, because the plates may have been stressed already during the days leading to this day.

Not worth the time or money at Gaya restaurant

My family and I were at the Gaya beach restaurant at the Paradise Sandy Beach Hotel in Tanjung Bungah, Penang yesterday evening, partaking in their weekend buffet dinner.

There's just one word to describe the experience: disappointment. I don't think we will ever consider coming here again. Most of the food was either cold or unpalatable.

Cold dishes: the chicken bratworst, beef, otak-otak, sticks of satay, flower crabs. Even the roast lamb and chicken wings which the restaurant had a grill to warm up the pre-cooked meat. I don't know what sort of planning went into their menu but I'm surprised they can't even do a reasonable job over an open fire.

Unpalatable dishes: the kembong fish was dry and tasteless, the broccoli and cauliflower dish was tasteless, the ice cream was soft and gooey.

Passable dishes: the cream of mushroom soup, pasta, the salad and the desert items.

That's all I can say about the food they served last Saturday night! It's not worth the time or money spent on the Gaya beachside restaurant at the Paradise Sandy Beach Hotel in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.

Verdict: Three thumbs down

Afterthought: This was not my first experience at this hotel. I've just remembered that when I ate breakfast at the hotel earlier this month, the fried beehoon was very salty, giving speculation that the cook must have washed the beehoon in the free sea water.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Tung chek, winter solstice

No, not marbles but only Tung Chek, that time of the year when Chinese the world over will celebrate the winter solstice which is the turning point of the weather in China. Custom says that at Tung Chek and not the Chinese New Year, we Chinese are all one year older. That is why Tung Chek has a lot of significance and it is sometimes a celebration on a pretty large scale in some communities.

Tung Chek is one of the few celebrations that are observed on a fixed date on the solar calendar. It always falls on 22 Dec every year, unless it is a leap year when it is observed on 21 Dec. The other festival which falls unchanged on a fixed date is of course, Cheng Beng, which is counted exactly 100 days after Tung Chek. You don't believe me? Just count and see. But next year's Cheng Beng is on 4 Apr and not 5 Apr because of the leap year.

How we celebrate it is by colouring and rolling those little balls of glutinous rice and cooking them until they are soft, gooey and sticky. Best served in a light sweety solution. They're round to signify unity, which is the essence of the family reunion.

When my grandma was still around, she used to stick two or three of these balls - she'd use the bigger white ones - on the top portion of the main door and then slowly let them make their way to the base. Why, she did not tell me and I did not think about finding out. Nevertheless, I was very fascinated by the custom. I would return to the door every now and then to watch how far the balls had descended. The concept of gravity is totally unknown to any child of five-years-old!

Today, I do not practise these old customs any more which is a pity since they are pretty much lost in the mists of time. Today, we'll just offer these glutinous rice balls at the altars in remembrance of the occasion.

Friday, 21 December 2007

White marbles?

Larsson's second coming?

Is Henrik Larsson coming under Sir Alex Ferguson's radar screen again?

There is speculation that the popular Larsson could make an unexpected return to Manchester United as cover for Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney.

When Larsson was at Old Trafford last season, he scored three goals in 13 appearances. At that time, Ferguson tried to convince him to make a permanent move but Larsson had already committed to his home town club Helsingborg. As that deal has expired, the Swede is now free to listen to offers elsewhere.

If Larsson comes a-calling again, he may well stay until the end of the season. Wonderful!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Bach's baroque rocks!

There's only one way to describe Johann Sebastian: Bach rocks! As I mentioned on Facebook the other day, I had spent the whole of Sunday morning listening to Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos played by the English Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Benjamin Britten.

It's a monumental boxed double album that comes with a very comprehensive booklet that describes the six concertos. Imogen Holst, daughter of Gustav Holst whose most celebrated work was The Planets, wrote in the booklet that "at last we can listen to the texture of this music as Bach heard it in his mind."

These particular recordings of the Brandenburg were made in the Maltings concert hall at Snape, Suffolk in 1968. The Maltings was opened as a concert hall in June 1967 but the building was damaged in a fire in June 1969. It has since been restored.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Penang heritage: Suffolk House

So this is Suffolk House! For a long while, I've always wanted to know where its location. Suffolk House - where Francis Light used to live. Until the 1970s or so, it was used by the Methodist Boys School as its tuck shop but because the building was becoming dilapidated, it was abandoned.

For many years it was in a bad state of disrepair but it has now been restored to its former glory. Earlier this month, I finally laid my eyes on this building. Although the gate was closed and a guard was on hand to deny any unauthorised entry into the grounds, I could still take this picture through the railing. Suffolk House is mighty grand and I'm just waiting for an occasion that will take me inside it.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

UFO landing soon

Come this new year, 1 Jan 2008 to be exact, Penang will sport an Unidentifiable Flying Object as its latest architectural creation. Expertly disguised as a roundabout, the UFO will visit Penang's Gurney Drive for an infinitely long stay.

What a mumbo jumbo collection of curvy metal rods. It will reputedly cost IJM Properties RM498,608 to build this. What a hideous, unimaginative waste of private funds. But then, what's new? Penang is famous for its outrageous roundabout decorations. What's one more to add to our collection?

Silent majority?

Are you a VM or an SM?

Oh, pardon me ... what I meant was, do you belong to the Vocal Minority or the Silent Majority? The government believes that the Vocal Minority (VM) are the pain-in-the-arses who are "losers" that make all the noise. The Silent Majority (SM) must then be "winners" who make no noise at all.

According to the Wikipedia, the term Silent Majority is a hypothetical large number of people in a country or group who do not express their opinions publicly. It was first used by Richard Nixon in 1969 to refer to those Americans who did not join in the large demonstrations against the Vietnam War at the time, engage in riots and attack the police, join in the counter-culture or participate enthusiastically in public discourse or the media.

In short, the Silent Majority keeps quiet on everything that happens around them. There's no leader or no follower amongst them. The Silent Majority is just a term, a loose phrase, not a registered society or body.

So I am confused. Last week, I noticed these two reports in our two mainstream English language newspapers:

I don't know what's happening but who are these folks who claim to speak for the Silent Majority? If they are so silent, why are they making a statement now? Aren't they contradicting themselves? And do I need them to represent me? No, thank you. I never elected or chose you to represent me. Don't claim to represent me. And if you don't represent me, don't claim to speak on my behalf. Go away, shoo! You just make yourself a laughing stock. Silent majority, indeed! Just shut up, okay?

Monday, 17 December 2007

Somewhere in old China?

Only the fertile mind of this craftsman from China can come out with such creations:

The figurines are made of clay and they are really small. Yet, there is so much detail in the figurines. If you hold a magnifying glass against these works of art, you'll see how much effort has been put into painting the expressions on the figurines. They are practically alive with all sorts of facial expressions and body movements. They tell a story.

Here are more photos, this time creating how a royal feast in olden-day China might have looked like. They are so uncannily life-like.

You can see them all at the Queensbay Mall in Penang. The master craftsmen from China will still be around for the next few days. Oh yes .... how much are these works selling for? Here's a clue...take a peek at the price tag below. Found it?

Best player in the world

"In my opinion, Cristiano has already established himself as the best player in the world. His goalscoring record is exceptional, better than many strikers, and he goes on to that pitch in every game believing he can score. He takes a lot of abuse but the beauty of it is that he just never stops attacking defenders. The first thing he wants to do after he's been fouled is get the ball and attack them again. That's fantastic courage and there aren't many players like that in the world today. Quite a few players are quite happy to get rid of the ball, pass it, and save their legs but Cristiano is prepared to risk to win a game of football and that's what marks him down as a special player."
-- Alex Ferguson