Wednesday, 30 April 2008

What a relief!

I woke up this morning with some trepidation. I could barely look at the reports in the BBC Online (my normal source of football information) and elsewhere.

However, what a relief! Manchester United are through to the Champions League final! A 14-minute spot-on strike by Paul Scholes was all it took to scrape a 1-0 win in the return leg at Old Trafford, and it was an appalling 76 minutes of tension that followed afterwards.

Manchester United in the Champions League final. Moscow on 21 May 2008. Nine years after their historical triumph of 1999. Great way to start the day!

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Internal Security Act, Malaysia

When I was at the Chai Leng Park wet market recently, I saw this poster plastered everywhere. It's a grim reminder that we still have people who are imprisoned under the Internal Security Act.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Income tax blues

Ahh .... so finally, I've finished our income tax returns. Both mine and my wife's. I had been struggling with them the whole of the weekend but today, I've dropped off our Borang BEs at the Income Tax Department. The department is open till late at night until 30 Apr 2008 (that's the deadline) but it was a strange eerie feeling when I walked into the foyer today at about 7pm. There was only a trickle of people there and the two depository bins were hardly one-eighth full. Where are the people?

Anyway, as I struggled through my Borang BEs, I took the opportunity to listen to some of my vinyl records. It was a distraction but I really needed that distraction. I took out the records, ran them through running water and wiped all the dust from them. Only then did I play them on my Rega Planar 3 turntable.

Here's a picture of some of the records I listened to. Ella Fitzgerald with her fine, jazzy voice singing Cole Porter's songs like Anything Goes and Begin The Beguinne, Rhythm Heritage with some of their finest disco-fied songs like Baretta's Theme and Theme From SWAT, Harry Belafonte with his memorable folksy renditions of Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma and Danny Boy and Robben Ford sizzling on his blues guitar.

Oh yes, I should also mention that I was listening to John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers' A Hard Road that featured Peter Green(baum). That's another scintillating blues axeman. After Green left Mayall's group, he formed Fleetwood Mac.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

The keris and the damage done

Neil Young is one of my favourite musicians. He was part of the Buffalo Springfield in the 1960s and when the group broke up, he played solo for a while before joining up with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash in the super-duper CSNY. But before long, he went his solo way again. One of his massive albums was Harvest in which Heart Of Gold became a Number One hit single in the United States. Another song from this album that caught my young and impressionable ear was The Needle And The Damage Done, a song about talented artists who died from heroin addiction.

Now fast forward 36 years later and substitute Needle with Keris. In 2005, in a country halfway around the globe from the United States, a politician rose on stage to start unsheathing and kissing a keris. He should have known better than to play to his audience because alarm bells immediately rang out throughout the country. It was a show of undisguised disdain towards the non-Malay citizens in this country. The Keris And The Damage Done. He tried to downplay his action but he offered no apology. We know what happened after that. People don't forget this affront easily and they told that to his political party in no uncertain terms.

But finally, he has seen the folly of his reckless action and last Friday (25 Apr 2008), Hishammuddin Hussein finally apologised. He said that it was time he offered Malaysians an apology over the keris-rattling and threatening noises at the Umno assembly three years earlier.

It was a gambit that failed. The Keris And The Damage Done. He may have aroused the members of his political party but he had also rubbed the wrong way all the non-Malay citizens at large in this country. Too late, too late. The damage was done. And the apology comes way too late. But at least he has acknowledged that it was a silly gesture.

But I'm perplexed. Was the apology all that it was taken to be? If he was saying sorry to the non-Malays, why did he in the same breath say sorry to the Malays too? Was he now implying that the non-Malays are to be blamed for not allowing him to uphold their symbol of heritage? Can someone explain that part to me better?

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Football danger

Manchester United are playing at Stamford Bridge tonight and I'm fearing for the worst.

What do I fear? I fear that their opponents will have a psychological advantage in tonight's big game because they had managed to squeak out a 1-1 draw with the Fried Livers in the Champion's League while Manchester United only came away with a scoreless draw against Barcy. Alex Ferguson may put on a brave front but it couldn't have done much to boost his team's morale, especially with Cristiano Ronaldo's missed penalty.

Still, I'm hoping for the best from tonight's encounter. This season's campaign better not ground to a halt at this most crucial time!

UPDATE: My worst fears came true. They are now level on points with Manchester United and we still have a big game coming up on Wednesday morning. My hope now is for the team to brush this setback aside and get down to the task of beating Barcelona. I know it's not going to be easy but they have got a job to do and they'd better do it right! As for the Premiership title, it's down to the wire. They must now really win the last two games or else it'll be kaput for them. If that happens, there'll be no one else to blame but themselves.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Party hopping

Over the past few days, I had tried to refrain from commenting on the barrage of news reports that followed former Gerakan deputy secretary-general Lee Kah Choon's decision to accept the offer of two posts in the Penang Development Corporation and InvestPenang from the Pakatan Rakyat government.

He was about to be given a "show cause" letter by the Gerakan central working committee when he pre-empted the move by withdrawing totally from Gerakan. He is not even a party member now. But until the day he resigned, he received a lot of flak from prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, deputy prime minister Najib Abdul Razak, former Gerakan president Lim Keng Yaik and even acting Gerakan president Dr Koh Tsu Koon. All of them criticised Lee.

In particular, Najib was quoted as saying that members of Barisan Nasional component parties should not work for the opposition. “I want to see Gerakan’s position on this matter,” Najib said. "In principle, members of BN component parties should not be encouraged to serve opposition-led state governments."

I am flabbergasted by the open pettiness still shown by the BN. On 21 Apr 2008, I had left a comment in Nat Tan's blog: "When can our politicians from different parties and ideologies ever learn to close ranks and work together after an election? It’s still a sign of our political immaturity that our politicians in the BN cannot accept this."

But I liked what Lim Guan Eng said to the Press yesterday:

"The response towards the Penang state government's approach to governance has been looked at purely from a political angle. The time has come for us to look at it from a new national perspective, approaching governance based on competence, accountability and transparency (CAT). We welcome all Penangites as well as those who we feel share this philosophy regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. It is unfortunate that we still consider race, religion and political affiliation, and I think the pressures that have been exerted and applied (on the Penang government) does not allow us to break out of the mold, that if you are of a certain race, a certain religion or if you come from a certain political party, you are automatically disqualified from being considered for certain positions as well as certain fields and areas. We must break out of this mold.

"Is this an opinion shared by the people? Are we going to grow out and grow up from an outdated mindset? The time has come to look at the content of character rather than colour of skin or the gods you pray to or the respective political beliefs that you hold. As long as you share with the Penang government the principles of CAT- competency in a government that can deliver, accountability in line with democratic principles and transparency - I think we can consider giving everyone a role to play and participate. If we have the confidence they can serve, we will appoint them. If they feel they don't want to take on the pressure they have a right not to continue and we respect their wishes and we will not condemn them.

"The time has come to look more at the content of your character, provided it does not clash with the principles of CAT. I think it is important that we seek a new direction and forge a new political paradigm. Let us govern based on good sense and sound reasoning. We take the leading role in Penang, and we are the partner in power in Perak and Selangor, and we hope that this can be extended to other states, giving hope to Malaysians who want to see the principles of CAT, and are not concerned about race, religion or political affiliation.

"I was hopeful that the leaders of the other political parties could respond (positively) to this gesture, but the fact that it was looked at with such an unexpectedly strong negative response shows that perhaps we have still not yet reached that level required. But I think the people of Malaysia expect us to attain a certain level of maturity, like what is happening in the West, that despite your political beliefs, you can still be appointed to posts in government."

OGC's firm grip on reality

I saw that the Office of Government Commerce in London has an impressive, new logo to show off. It was unveiled just a few days ago and, according to the OGC (a UK Treasury division), the logo signifies a bold commitment to the body’s aim of “improving value for money by driving up standards and capability in procurement”.

Unfortunately, neither the OGC nor its designer had ever thought about turning the graphic 90 degrees on its side. Just take a look. What does it suggest to you? It's enough to make the hardest man blush.

Anyway, the OGC in its enthusiasm went ahead with making mousepads and pens but the moment the logo was launched, it immediately became the talk of the office. And they've all gone missing. Become collector's items. Maybe, you'll find them on eBay.

So is it back to the drawing board for the OGC? Not yet, if this comment from an OGC spokesman is anything to go by: “It is true that it caused a few titters among some staff when viewed on its side, but on consideration we concluded that the effect was generic to the particular combination of the letters OGC - and it is not inappropriate to an organisation that’s looking to have a firm grip on Government spend.”

I would say that the OGC has a firm grip on something else!

Summary: Sabah travel blog

I just thought it will be useful to give the links to all my Sabah blog items:

And of course, it wouldn't be complete without a link to my online Sabah photo album. Almost 500 pictures there from four different cameras.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Alvin, Theodore and Simon

Friends were asking me what I meant when I mentioned Alvin, Theodore and Simon in my earlier post, Sabah, land below the wind. Who's Alvin? And who's Theodore and Simon?

Well, they're the names I gave to these squirrels that I saw around the Layang Layang Hut on the way to Laban Rata. There are plenty of squirrels up the mountain but it is rather hard to take photos of them because they are quick. The only way to stop them from darting everywhere if to give them food to eat. Then they'll pause sufficiently long enough for you.

If you are an old timer like me, you'll be familiar with these stars of this vinyl record. That's where I got the inspiration to name the squirrels of Mount Kinabalu as Alvin, Theodore and Simon:

By the way, if you are into squirrels or chipmunks, here's a completely irrelevant song about them. It's a parody of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) by Nat King Cole. Don't feel outraged and behave like a prickhead, okay? It's only a song...

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Grace Point, Kota Kinabalu

Grace Point. A high-end hawker centre. So high-end that taxi drivers don't normally know where's this place. There's no taxi stand here. Only people with BIG CARS come here to eat.

We didn't have a BIG CAR at our disposal, so we took a taxi to Grace Point. Where's that, the driver asked. We dunno, but just follow that BIG CAR. Hooi Theng's driving that one, with Yuen Chee, See Keong and their wives. We dutifully followed behind in the taxi.

Hooi Theng's our ex-colleague from Ban Hin Lee Bank. She's now with an IT company and settled down with two children in KK. So again, with old friends in our last night in Sabah.

Nothing exciting about Grace Point, though. When we arrived, we saw this sign on the wall saying: "Grace Point. The City's Secret Garden. A community project for the city of Kota Kinabalu by the Grace of God"

Secret garden? Where's that? In this place? When I looked around, all I saw was a huge car park for BIG CARS, a neat row of stalls selling high-end hawker food, a beverage centre and rows upon rows of tables and chairs filled with people. But a secret garden? Where's that again?

The answer became apparent when we waited for Hooi Theng to come and pick us up after she had dropped off Yuen Chee.

"You must go to the washroom and tell me what you think," a smiling Long Kin told me excitedly. Grinning from ear to ear, that fella. Okay, friend, I'll try the washroom.

So I walked straight in and stood at the urinal. Strange. There's a garden in front of me. Was this the secret garden? Inside the men's washroom? No wall or partition in front of me? Am I supposed to pee directly into the garden? Ah, suddenly I noticed a glass pane separating me from the garden. You can't pee at the plants.

So there I was, standing, doing my business blissfully when it suddenly struck me. Was it a completely see-through glass or was it a one-way glass? Ahh...if you're a man, you'd know that it is almost impossible to interrupt your business in mid-stream. You have to see it through till the last drop.

I waited until I finished. Then I tried to find out more about the huge glass wall. Surprise, surprise, you can actually walk around over to the other side, go into the small secret garden. And watch other men do their peeing business in full view, from the front. :-)

I don't know what to make of it. Did the developer have a wicked sense of humour when he built this place? Was his architect a voyeur? Hmm.... I noticed that people preferred not to use this urinal. They chose the cubicles. These must be the regular patrons. Not unsuspecting, first-time visitors like me who wouldn't be able to interrupt their business until it ends. When it's too late! Ha ha .... that's progressive Sabah. Secret garden? No, just a very big amusing secret.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Moving around Kota Kinabalu

Our last full day in Kota Kinabalu was initially meant for island hopping around the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park but Saw See and I didn't feel like it. Bloody 'ell! The driver that took us from Timpohon Gate to the Liwagu Restaurant at the Kinabalu Park said that was our prize for climbing the mountain! It wouldn't be complete without aching limbs.

So there we were, two days after coming down from the mountain and we were still hobbling around in great pain. Instead of the island hops, we decided to stick to our alternative plan of going around KK in search of our elusive bowl of fish head beehoon soup. Two years ago, we had partaken one of the most delicious bowls of fish head beehoon soup around the Gaya Street area but for some reason, we couldn't find the coffee shop again. Long Kin and Boon Hock were our companions in our search, while Yuen Chee and See Keong and their wives went island hopping.

Eventually, we ended up in a coffee shop which could only serve us fish fillet beehoon soup. Better than nothing, I suppose, but we voiced our disappointment to the coffee shop's proprietress.

It so happened that sitting right next to us at an adjacent table was a couple who struck up a conversation with us. They opened up to us and we to them. The lady, Jenny, offered to take us around KK and promised to take us to Inanam for what she said would be the definitive fish head beehoon soup in town! We didn't hesitate for long before taking up the offer.

Myself with Jenny and Cliff

Guess what? It was half a day of sightseeing thrown into the trip to Inanam. First, we toured the Universiti Malaysia Sabah campus (Jenny arrived at the gate, confidently informed the guards "tourists" and then drove straight through without any hesitation) and went up to their fisheries pier. The water there was clear as a bell.

Saw See with our host, Jenny Yap

Jenny Yap with the rest of us...

Our next destination was the Puh Toh Si temple but along the way, we stopped briefly to admire the KK city mosque and gawk at the floating wooden houses along the river (more like slum houses to me). We even had time to visit Jenny's husband's family factory producing steel rods.

Our elusive search for fish head beehoon soup took us to the Dat Seng coffee shop. I tell you, life could not be more complete at that point in time. Generous chunks of fish head in our bowls of beehoon soup. A nice bowl of tomyam prawns, Sabah style, thrown in and washed down with a special blend of lime juice. Ahh..... Now look below, this is an expression that's worth a million!

By the way, you may want to know that you can find Taliban food right here in Inanam itself. Ahh...maybe I'm kidding you but surely, I'm not deceiving you with this photograph. I suppose it's only in Malaysia that the people can be so bold and get away with it. The state authorities obviously don't care much about what the coffee shop is called as long as the business is legitimate.

Our final destination with Jenny was Tanjung Aru. It was a vast expanse of sand, sand and more sand. Wonderfully clean beach with exceptionally clear, blue water. Sabah is indeed blessed to have such beauty.

Stay tuned for Part Six.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Not a mainstream newspaper, for sure!

So, it seems that the Parti Keadilan Rakyat will be given a permit soon to start a newspaper, that is, if it's not already been issued. Kudos to the PKR. But it's also kudos to the BN government in Kuala Lumpur if they are starting to adopt a new openness. But what's next after a newspaper? A radio station as well? Cor...what a wish, what a hope!

Unfair to condemn the new councillors

There seemed to be a lot of unhappiness reported in the Press and some blogs regarding the appointment of new municipal councillors for both Penang Island and Penang Mainland.

Unhappiness in the Press because it seemed that the Pakatan government was not making good its promise to allocate 10 seats to the non-governmental organisations. Only seven such appointments were made to fill four seats on the island and three on the mainland.

Unhappiness in some blogs mainly because of the same reasons but I greatly suspected it could be more of personal motives in their outbursts. I hope it was not because these NGOs were themselves eyeing the appointments and had failed to be represented in the councils.

The talk was that five of the seven independent appointments were given to the business community and their representatives would surely look after their own interests first before others.

Yes, it would be ideal if the state government had included people who represented the hawkers or trade unions or house buyers or residents associations or consumers etc but seriously, don't you think that these people will not also look after their self-interests first?? And will they be effective also? The civil society groups seem to believe that they are.

Besides, why shouldn't we be having the representatives from the various Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers as councillors? The business community provides the heartbeat for Penang and it is only right, in these pressing times, that they have a more direct say on how the direction that Penang should follow.

So I say this to the civil society groups .... please don't condemn the new appointees even before they get down to business (pardon the pun). I think it is really unfair to them. Let them prove themselves in this one year. After that, you can talk and pass judgment on them. But not before.

Beware: Port View Seafood Restaurant serves up protected seafood

Continuing my Sabah travel blog, this is the front of the Port View Seafood Restaurant along Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens in Kota Kinabalu. There is another branch of the same restaurant in another part of the town.

The restaurant is well-known in the town. It serves fresh seafood which you can pick and choose live and it goes straight from the fish tank into the cooking pot. But the Port View Seafood Restaurant also has a dark side. It has no qualms about misrepresentation.

When we arrived back in KK from Mt Kinabalu, we wanted to give ourselves a treat in celebration. So we went to this restaurant which was just across the road from our hotel. Yuen Chee and See Keong went with the restaurant captain to place our orders while the rest were seated inside.

They came back and announced that the captain had recommended the parrot fish to them. It was a bargain, Yuen Chee said. The captain told them that if we were to choose a live parrot fish from the tank, it would've cost us RM380 per kilo but since they also happened to have one that was just freshly dressed (meaning: dead, gutted and ready to be cooked), the cost would only be RM200 per kilo. That's almost at a half price, so my two friends grabbed at the deal.

The dishes came and the steamed fish was, of course, the highlight of the dinner. Never had we eaten such an expensive dish before. Here's how it looked like.

I took a bite. Yes, it was definitely fresh. No fishy smell at all. But it was not anything spectacularly different from other steamed fishes I'd taken before. So why was it so special? Why the high price tag even for a dead fish?

When we left the restaurant, we saw yet another dressed fish on offer to customers. Yes, confirmed Yuen Chee, it was the same type as the one we had just eaten. But why was it that the restaurant kept killing their parrot fish and offering them at half price to their customers when they could offer the live fish at full price? Was it a sales ploy and we had fallen for it?

Never mind, I thought, maybe there was a valid reason why their parrot fish all ended up dead at half price. I didn't bother to answer my own question. To me, it was enough that we had celebrated the Mt Kinabalu adventure with a bill that amounted to RM672.52. A once-in-a-lifetime expenditure. What irony. Only about two weeks ago, I had blogged about someone being fleeced by a restaurant in Gohtong Jaya. And here we were, paying a similar sum for our own fish dish.

The matter would have ended here except that when I came home to Penang, I saw this news item in The Star when I was catching up on the news. My eyes nearly popped out. Staring at me was a protected humphead wrasse. The similarities were too many: the scribbles/ marks around the eyes, colour of the body, shape of the head .... it couldn't be but yes, it is!

It wasn't a parrot fish that we ate in Kota Kinabalu; it was a humphead wrasse. I felt so disgusted with myself and enraged with the restaurant. If it kept telling its patrons that the wrasse was the parrot fish, it was nothing more than willful deception, taking advantage of most Chinese diners' fascination with exotic food, all in the name of profit. They didn't care that the fish was protected; they only cared that people can be deceived into parting with their good money. My friends and I wouldn't have ordered this fish if we had known more about its status then. We had helped to kill off a humphead wrasse and honestly, we don't feel good about it.

So the next time you are in Sabah, the next time you are in Kota Kinabalu, the next time you are in Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, the next time you walk into the Port View Seafood Restaurant, please remember .... be careful about what you order. Unwittingly, you may end up contributing to the endangering and ultimately, the extinction of this fish.

Stay tuned for Part Five.

Note: You can do an Internet search on the words "humphead wrasse" and turn up hundreds of results. You may also see photographs of the wrasse and say that some don't look anything like the fish in my photos, especially this one in wikipedia. Actually, that's an adult wrasse in the wiki and it could measure anything between three and six feet long. Moreover, the photo was taken in deep waters and underwater photos are always masked by a greenish or bluish tinge due to light dispersion and refraction. Here's another resource from the Queensland Government which says that the fish is "generally bright electric blue to a duller blue/green, green or purplish blue. Juveniles and females are red-orange above and red-orange to white below." The wrasse we ate was just a juvenile, about a foot long. At that early stage in its life, it was still pink, although I oculdn't say that it was in the pink of health.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Breakfast at Chai Leng Park Market

It's not often when I'm able to go to the Chai Leng Park market but when I do, I never fail to enjoy my steaming bowl of too tor koay teow soup and some nice, fresh ham chim peng and hua chee dipped in thick coffee. I tell you, this ham chim peng stall at the market is the best in Penang. Come enjoy with me!

Poring Hot Springs

We made a detour to the Poring Hot Springs before returning to Kota Kinabalu. The highlight of the visit was the 172-metre canopy walk. At first we thought: what...more climbing involved?? Yes, before we could enjoy the canopy walk, we'd have to climb to the tree top first, wouldn't we? But please don't get the wrong impression. We did not climb any tree. We simply had to climb a trail to get us to the canopy walk. And I tell you, it was well worth the climb despite our weary legs.

After all, where else could we have enjoyed a steamy hot, relaxing bath after a walk which took us about 100 feet above ground level than at Poring? At RM15 per room, we have an hour of privacy all to ourselves. Only snag was, it would be very difficult to last one whole hour in the hot tub. Yuen Chee was saying, why didn't we think of sharing the room, each of us occupying it for half an hour? Good idea!

Anyway, this is the public bath area at the Poring Hot Springs. Even Mat Sallehs come here for a long soak:

Stay tuned for Part Four.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

BM Hill: A return to normalcy

Here's a short break from my Sabah travel blog. Today was the 12th day since we all came down from Mt Kinabalu. Today, I decided to resume my regular exercise regimen by climbing the BM Hill at Cherok To'Kun.

I had put it off for 12 days because my knees felt different. Occasionally, I could feel some slight twinges of discomfort in both knees and I needed time to heal and recover fully from all that. For about a month before our trip to Sabah, I had been taking heavy does of glucosamine and chondroitin daily to keep my knee joints oiled. I'm still taking them daily but will be cutting down on the dosage soon.

I had almost forgotten how the forest at BM Hill smelt like. It's something like three weeks since I last went there. And the hill welcomed me back by showing me new things. Like, for example, this butterfly laying its eggs:

And this butterfly that simply stayed so still as I slowly went in closer and closer with my camera. It didn't fly away:

Fungus growing on a rotting tree trunk halfway up the hill track:

Abundance of richly hued grasshoppers such as this one:

And some beautiful white flowers to boot:

Of course, I was rudely brought back to earth when I saw this flag fluttering at the junction of Jalan Kulim and Jalan Kolam. It's rather shameful to let their flag degrade to such a condition. Where's their pride?

Low's Peak: Land above the mist

Do you know how it was like to wake up at 1am? Well, not actually wake up but to pull ourselves from our warm beds (okay, not-so-warm beds) to face the bloddy cold? We had been hearing that the temperature up there - at the peak - could fall to zero degrees. Not taking any chances, we added layers to our clothes. I had three layers on and there, perhaps was my mistake.

Anyway, here you can see some of us all togged up and ready to leave the Waras Hut at 2am:

Our initial climb was up a long series of rocks and wooden steps in the dark with only our headlights on. Took us about an hour or so. I tried to make light of it but I was actually struggling and boiling beneath my clothes. I felt very uncomfortable. Then came the part where we had to climb the bare granite rock while hanging to the thick rope. I took a hold of the rope, climbed about maybe five feet and something snapped inside me. Apart from my physical discomfort, the complete darkness overwhelmed me. I gasped out to my wife that I couldn't continue further and she urged me to go back. Behind me, Poh Yong's voice rang out: : "If you are not going, I don't want to go too." Thus, See Keong was left to climb all by himself. I asked my wife to be careful and then I gingerly climbed down from the rock. My legs felt like jelly and my head spun briefly.

It took Poh Yong and I about 90 minutes to make our way back to the Laban Rata resthouse. There were hardly anyone else going up the mountain so the trail back was practically in the dark. We made a wrong detour to the Panar Laban Hut and had to turn back. At the Gunting Lagadan Hut, I lost my footing and slid down the short granite slope.

At 7.17am, I received a text message from Saw See to tell me that she reached the top at 5.55am.

She couldn't remember the time she sent but it sure took its time to reach me! Well, at least one of us reached the peak. I'm so glad.

Not many people saw this clever juxtapositioning of rocks but See Keong did. Don't you just think that it resembles the Hongkong Bank lion?

At 8.30am when I was just about to have my breakfast at the resthouse, Boon Hock arrived. About 15 minutes later, Long Kin and See Keong had also come down. Yuen Chee and Chui Tee arrived at about 9.25am and Saw See at 9.30am. My friends said they had never see our guide, John, smile. He was always the serious bloke but here he was, all smiling away:

We began our long trek down from the Waras Hut at 10.45am. See Saw's toes were in great pain despite having worn the Columbia trekking shoes, so she was hobbling along. All the way down from Laban Rata, we moved very slowly, myself helping her whenever we came to the steep steps, telling her where to place her feet. No mishaps or missteps. And I still got time to take some great photos. Here is a very dreamy landscape, thanks to the thick mist:

We reached Timpohon Gate at 6.15pm. That's 7.5 hours. Whoever that said coming down would be easier than going up just haven't tried Mt Kinabalu before. But despite the pain, it was a triumphant climb for us both. She had always wanted to reach Low's Peak and she did that; I reached my goal which was Laban Rata. No bonus for me, though.

Stay tuned for Part Three.

As an afterthought, I should add that Saw See and my friends that reached Low's Peak walked a total of 11 kilometres that day: 2.5 kilometres from Laban Rata to the top and 8.5 kilometres from the peak to Timpohon Gate.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Sabah: The land below the wind

Jesselton is the capital of North Borneo. No, wait....let me try again. Kota Kinabalu (formerly known as Jesselton) is the capital of Sabah (formerly called North Borneo). Yes, it's correct now....

Myself, Saw See, Poh Yong, See Keong, Chui Tee, Long Kin, Boon Hock with Yuen Chee (front)

Anyway, the eight of us flew into Kota Kinabalu on 5 Apr 2008. Our main mission was to climb Malaysia's highest mountain (and, so it seems, South-East Asia's fifth highest mountain). Our appointment with the mountain was made six months ago. My personal goal was to reach Laban Rata but if I could make it to the peak, it would be a bonus.

So we jetted in and went off immediately to the Kinabalu Park, only stopping briefly for lunch in a quaint little town called Tanparuri, to check into the Rock Hostel. Five of us eight had at one time or another worked together in Ban Hin Lee Bank. The five of us go back a long way. Old friends. We knew one another very well.

This hostel had none of the luxury of the Rajah Lodge which I had enjoyed about two years back with another group of friends who were from Singapore. At Rock Hostel, it was four-to-a-room on double-decker beds with no heating but we were prepared to rough it out. Communal bathrooms but they were clean.

Next morning at 8.30am, we began our climb from Timpohon Gate. Interestingly, we were required to descend for about 100 metres but after that, it was up up up all the way.

My wife and I took our sweet time to take in the 6km climb: enjoyed the fine weather, listened to the chirping of birds, marvelled at the changing landscape, amused by Alvin, Theodore, Simon and friends, and appreciated the flowers and plants. As expected, we were the last to arrive at Laban Rata. Time was 3pm.

Much of the terrain required us to climb up knee-high steps or rocks. This wasn't easy on me and I do have problems with my knees, especially the left side. But I've braved it all these years. As I was going up, I was wondering how I would be able to come down. I've heard people tell me that it would be tougher coming down since all the weight would be on the knees and toes. As for my wife, she had an unexpected minor surgery on one of her toes two weeks ago and the wound had not completely healed. So she had to walk rather gingerly.

We took about 6.5 hours to reach the Waras Hut which was about five minutes away from the Laban Rata resthouse. Again, this wasn't a heated accommodation and we had to endure temperatures of about eight degrees at night. I was covered with three layers of blanket and I hardly slept. The wind was howling and the walls were cold. So I made it to Laban Rata after all. My goal achieved. Now, to see whether I could go further. In the meantime, we were all pretty mesmerised by the display of colours at sunset, including the cloud formation. Beautiful.

Is this Mickey Mouse or is it the map of Sabah?

Stay tuned for Part Two.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Rape of Pulau Jerejak continues...

Last month (15 Mar 2008), I blogged about the indiscriminate cutting of the hill on Pulau Jerejak. I had even informed the local newspapers about this. Unfortunately, nobody was interested enough in this destruction of nature.

The clearing of this part of Pulau Jerejak is being done very systematically.

Today, as I drove by, I noticed that the hill is now totally denuded. Human being, in the name of progress, has triumphed. I'm sure the state government knows about this. I'm sure there are some pretty vocal socio-political environmentalists who have read about this but are keeping quiet. Unfortunately, nobody seems to care about the world around us anymore. What more can I say??

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Storms ahead

It looks like there's going to be some stormy weather ahead for the next few days. I've just got alerted that a tropical storm is brewing in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam, the Philippines and Sabah. It's a huge depression and although it is moving north-westerly, there's bound to be some residual effect on the countries around it. Well, we are one of them so be braced for some rainy spells to come!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

On top of Malaysia

Saw See at Low's Peak on Mount Kinabalu last Monday, 7 Apr 2008, at 5.55am. I'm so proud of my wife.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Football excitement is mounting

Excitement mounts as the season draws to a close. Here are the remaining fixtures:
  • For Manchester United, their opponents will be Blackburn (19 Apr), Barcelona (CL) (23 Apr), Chelsea (26 Apr), Barcelona (CL) (29 Apr), West Ham (3 May) and Wigan (11 May).
  • For Chelsea, they will be facing Wigan (14 Apr), Everton (19 Apr), Liverpool (CL), (22 Apr), Manchester United (26 Apr), Liverpool (CL) (30 Apr), Newcastle (3 May) and Bolton (11 May)
  • For Arsenal, their games will be against Reading (19 Apr), Derby (28 Apr), Everton (3 May) and Sunderland (11 May)
  • For Liverpool....well, like I said before, who cares?