Saturday, September 27, 2008

The New Hobby I Picked Up in Tioman

"The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea."

Isak Dinesen

It's been a pretty stacked week so far what with the starting of the new semester in the Malaccan campus of my medical college and all the pre-launch excitement, fatigue (and oddly enough; nausea) that accompany it. Being one of the few purebred Malaccans in my class, I've been playing tour guide for the entire week. I have attempted to blog yesterday and the day before (but as you can see, I did not deliver). I was simply too tired to write.

In fact, I'm too tired to write now as well. Our stuff from Manipal, India, arrived this afternoon and we worked till evening unloading the lot. I think I overstretched or tore or even mangled part of my arm from all the heavy lifting I did - my biceps hurts like a bitch now. Typing doesn't stress it much but I think I'm pretty much done with carrying anything heavier than a watermelon for the rest of the week. And boy, am I going to be sore in the morning.

Still, I have to update my blog before I am completely swamped in my head with all the posts I have mentally drafted all week. So here you are - a week late - my writeup on my island vacation on Tioman.

Not Tioman.

I took a bus to Mersing, Tioman's portal town, on Sunday where I was suppose to meet up with the rest of the peeps I was vacationing with. Jun Han lives there so he shall be the de facto host for the trip (in fact, he arranged the entire itinerary and made all the necessary bookings - what a joy). His house is apparently half a kilometre from the bus station and seeing that he was still in church when I arrived, I had to locate it myself.

Not too daunting, considering that I have quite a bit of talent in finding my way around. It also helps, of course, that I have absolutely no qualms about asking for directions when I need any. What didn't help was that the local people have absolutely no heads for street names and rather than admitting outright that they didn't know where Jun Han's house (a shophouse right above his father's clinic) was, they sent me running in all the wrong directions. On the words of one woman, I actually hiked right out of town and had in fact, covered half the distance to the seaside before I even realised that I needed to turn right back and punch that woman in her teeth.

I decided to just give up and park my ass in a KFC restaurant I came across till Jun Han finishes his weekly conversation with God and come get me. Mercifully, he rang me a few minutes later and told me that the KFC I was in was almost right opposite his place.

I know the first thing you see in this picture is the lobsters.

Jun Han's Mom and Dad put out a kingly spread for the lot of us freeloaders from the West Coast that night.

I heard that it is considered rude to finish all the food your host prepared for you in a Chinese household. I must say that I did not know that taboo before prior to that in spite being Chinese myself but hey, we learn new things everyday. The question is, what do you do when there's only one lobster left on the table? Is it rude to finish it all or is it ruder still to let it go to waste? A dilemma, this.

Can you see the letters of Mersing on the hill in the background?

In the morning after, we walked to the jetty to catch a ferry to Tioman. In spite of it being a week day during the off peak season (i.e. imminent monsoon), there was a surprising number of people bound for the island. White people made up the chief fraction of vacationers.

White people unclear on the concept.

Tioman was listed as one of the best islands in the world by TIME magazine in the 1970's and is an old tourist darling of Malaysia. Located just off the coast of Pahang on the South China Sea, the island is a veritable heaven for snorkeling and scuba-diving - both something I have always wanted to try.

Just look at the water.

We landed on the Salang Beach Resort which is located at the northernmost part on the island's coastline which faces the mainland (and hence, experiences gentler currents). I was completely blown away by the sheer vulgar number of small, grey fishes which bobs serenely under the shade of the jetty. There must have been like a million of them all chillin' beneath the tide. When I looked harder, I could even see black sea cucumbers lounging motionlessly on the sea floor - which must have been, at the very least, ten metres down. The water visibility was startlingly perfect, especially to someone who has only ever seen the waters of the Peninsula West Coast (the water of the Straits of Malacca is as clear as mud and smells almost as bad).

I half expected the waters in Tioman to taste like springwater.

A ballistic missile exploding in mid air.

We spent the first day simply fooling around in the water and took turns taking peeks at the corals and fishes using Lai Yin's and Nickson's goggles. The reefs just off Salang aren't spectacular but the diversity of colourful reef fishes was simply mind-boggling. It's just too bad that my camera wasn't exactly water-friendly so I can't show you any.

I discovered in Tioman that I have a great innate propensity to stay afloat and in spite of having no prior swimming lessons, I did pretty well (no one mentions anything about fat being able to float very well unless they want to die). I even pitched in in helping Jun Han learn how to float and swim for our snorkelling trip in the day after.

Yeah, we only had snorkeling on the itinerary because our 3 days stay there couldn't afford us the time for scuba lessons. I guess I'd just have to put that off for another day.

My desktop wallpaper of the month!


Looking from the jetty at the beach.

The heavier stuff started the day after where we set off on a hired boat to some popular snorkeling spots. And since we are people with our priorities set right, we headed to the biggest settlement on the island, Kampung Tekek, to do a bit of duty free shopping first.

I got myself a litre of Absolut Mandrin and it's standing on the bookshelf on my desk, staring seductively down at me right this moment. Every workspace needs a bottle of vodka on it, I always say - y'know, in case of emergencies.

After that, we cruised over to the Berjaya beach, which our guide guy said is one of the best beaches on the island,

Well, I don't have a benchmark to compare this to but hey, we had it all to ourselves.

Michael, our guide, told us to practice snorkeling here before he took us out on the open sea.

Snorkeling has a learning curve of about 5 minutes and in no time, I could hold my face down in the water indefinitely and was exploring the coral reefs on my own. The reefs of the Berjaya beach were definitely livelier than those Salang Beach ones and the water is quite obviously clearer too. And it was practically covered with black sea urchins covered completely in 8-inch-long spines which looked like they would kill me if I so much as look at them the wrong way. What made them creepier is their mouthparts which are located beneath the spines which sport 5 fluorescent blue spots on every one of them. They make the sea urchins look as if they each possess a steely, cruel eye which stares hopefully and unflinchingly up at us man-things floating near the surface - psychically willing us to sink down to them where they'll promptly swarm and devour us in a bloody frenzy.

I used to be terribly interested in marine biology and on that list of careers I made after college of the jobs I most like to have, being a marine biologist was number one. I'm no expert but the amount of sea urchins I saw was definitely not normal. I attribute that to a lack of natural predators. If I remember correctly, sea turtles eat them.

Come to think of it, we didn't see a single sea turtle in all the places we snorkeled at.

Due to the rising threat of sea urchin infestation, the army have decided to nuke the place to heck. Kaboom.

Our highlight of the day was Renggis Island, a small coral reef surrounded rock about a 100 metres from the Berjaya Beach,

That roundish bob of an island is Renggis. You could almost walk right up to it.

Renggis was pure magic. The variety of colors and types of corals which made up the reef was blinding. Snorkeling there was like hovering over an enchanted forest (albeit the sort people think up when they are tripping on acid) where countless psychedelic fey-hued fishes swim so thickly around you that at times, you would think that there were more fish than water. We practically had the reefs around Renggis Island exclusively to ourselves, since only two boats where there at the time - ours and someone else's who didn't come in a too large group. I ranged pretty far from the group, feeling a brand of wanderlust that made me just want to swim and swim all day long in the brilliant green and blue, soaking up the holiday.

It got me completely hooked. I have half a mind to get a snorkel mask of my own soon seeing that I would definitely want to do it again if I ever find myself on a tropical island again.

When we got back to Salang, everyone opted for a shower and a bit of snooze. I went alone with my rented snorkeling mask and spent the rest of the evening swimming over the nearby reefs, having as much fun as a two-year-old in a sandbox the size of a truck bed. I swear it's like the second coming of childhood for me. I forwent the lifejacket because I felt it to be too stifling and cumbersome - and it was really awkward to swim with one on. I learnt how to stay so still that fishes will swim right up to my mask and peered in at me curiously (I stopped doing that when some blue fishes so dark they were almost black kept mistaking me for a bloater floater and insisted on taking exploratory bites off my extremities). I realised that the crackling sound I heard when I hover over a coral reef was actually the noise of fishes nibbling on the coral.

I have said it before and I'll say it again. I am against shark-fishing and I didn't simply oppose it just because it's cruel (they cut off the the fins and dump the sharks back into the water to drown - 'cause they can't breathe when they can't swim). I am also against it because sharks are important predators of coral ecology. They keep the number of coral-eating fishes down so that they won't eat up entire coral reef systems which takes millions of years to grow - coral reefs which host immense biodiversity of species in our oceans. If you understand the consequences of shark fishing and yet you still eat shark fin, you get no respect from me. I hate people who eat shark fin, you hear me?

Besides, shark fin are tasteless and has an unpleasant inconsistency - much like rubber or plastic. of all the dumb things to eat, shark fin's one of the stupidest.

Morning over Tioman.

Josephine joined me in my solo discovery moment and together, we swam half a kilometre out to the end of the jetty where I saw the massive schools of fishes when I first landed on the island the day before. Swimming right into the middle of the school was amazing; they'd just swirl lazily around, carefully maintaining a constant two metre radius around you. It was an unearthly experience. Out there, the sea bed was so far down that I got giddy just looking down. If there wasn't water, a fall that far would no doubt break both my legs.

I only returned to the beach when the sun was so low that it was hard to see anything underwater. I got so tan that I am practically chocolate in colour now - but GAWD, it was worth it.

Redang is now next on my travel hit list.

Maybe her clothes were too loud.

Totally unrelated, this; on my way back to Malacca from Mersing, the bus made a stop in Kluang for a toilet break. When I was walking back to my bus, a lady nearby suddenly fell on the ground hard, seizing. Her neck and right feet were twitching uncontrollably and she was foaming in the mouth, and she soon attracted a sizable crowd. I helped to carry her off the road but that was all that I did. I noticed that someone had already called for an ambulance and while we waited, some people were trying to revive her. A Malay bloke whispered a rapid prayer into a bottle of water and wetted her neck and forehead with it. I expect most traditional or superstitious remedies for seizures were devised so people dealing with someone seizing wouldn't feel so damn impotent and useless. I only stuck around to make sure no one try making her drink the water or put things into her mouth to prevent her from biting off her tongue and swallowing it. You should never put anything into a seizing person's mouth or make that person ingest anything - not even medicine till he or she is fully conscious.

Aside from waiting for the paramedics, there's simply isn't much anyone can do in the incidence of a seizure - maybe make sure the patient doesn't choke on her spittle and check if she's breathing properly or something.

As soon as a passerby nurse came into the scene, I buggered off. I'm just a medical student, yo.

Addicted to snorkeling,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, September 19, 2008

Men These Days Are Women

"I tried to be like Grace Kelly
But all her looks were too sad
So I try a little Freddie
I've gone identity mad!"

Grace Kelly (2007) by Mika

A while ago, I spotted this really tall chick sporting one of those vaguely tomboyish hairstyles at the Melaka Mall. She was really thin, by the way and I'm talking stick insect here; an ultra spindly type who crosses her long, languid arms at all times like she's perpetually in an art gallery, strutting like a crane. She was wearing a pair of black, pencil thin trousers which made her legs seem like they would go on forever. On her face was a pair of plastic thick-framed glasses - or "emo glasses" as they are commonly referred to - that the "ah bengs" and "ah lians" of Malaysia seem to have taken a shine to recently. I noticed that she had exceedingly narrow hips (and an ass so small its probably pointy if she bends over) and I thought absent-mindedly to myself, "Now, here's someone who will never experience natural childbirth." With her was a friend, another girl who was at least twice her size and had a more feminine turn in her fashion sense. Lesbians, perhaps? Or BFF's with a lot of underlying co-reinforcing gender confusion and unresolved same-sex sexual tensions? I like making elaborate assumptions about strangers I see in public places. It's like a hobby.

At one point, I walked past the pair and noticed that the tall, thin chick has absolutely no tits to speak of on her extremely narrow frame. I risked a split second glance at her face, as I usually do in cases of missing boobage, to somehow confirm her gender from her facial features. It was a very girly face, if you must know. In fact, she looked like a twin sister of my girlfriend's college roommate. "Guess she'll never breastfeed too," commented my mind, chuckling like the asshole it usually is.

Then I heard her say something to her largish girlfriend.

And her voice was unmistakably male.

Great gods of androgyny! Two and a half years of medical school and I still could mistake a dude for a chick! There's a very important element missing from the curriculum, if you ask me - like the psychosexual needs of some guys to make themselves look as girlish as possible. I wanted to do a confirmation check using a tried and tested method I've picked up since I was a kid; look for the Adam's apple. But I dared not risk another look.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I ran into the chick-looking dude or dude-looking chick at the MBO cineplex later. She/He and her/his girlfriend was ahead of me in the line. The Adam's apple was prominently in display, and I wondered how I could have missed it before. It's very unsettling, however, to see a girl's face on a person you know is a guy. Every little movement he made screamed "Chick! Chick! For the love of Venus, chick!!!". I noticed that he had let his girlfriend buy the ticket while he stood beside her with her arms still crossed, complete with open hands and soft, dangly fingers. God, he was more girlish than most girls I know.

His girlfriend turned and asked him which seats he would prefer in the theatre and he replied "Up to you," in Mandarin, in the that creepy man voice so incongruous with his girly face. Note here that he, not content with looking like a woman, has to be as indecisive as one too.

Behind me in the line were a bunch of Chinese educated high school kids (I guessed from their sense of fashion). One of them had this J-pop star thing going on; skin girls would die for and straightened hair dyed like a Japanese anime character's. As everyone knows, Japan's biggest exported commodity is androgyny. I'm all for guys being metrosexual and all but I have to draw the line at rebonding. Spending hours at a saloon is an unambiguously girl thing - unless we're talking about American wild west saloons here that has swinging doors, beer and shootouts. That's as manly as anything can ever get.

This dude came from Japan.

I remember a time when a guy would be afraid of being considered a cissy by other dudes. It's a sign of the times, I guess. A lot of guys nowadays actively perpetuate a female self-image - but to what end, I cannot fathom. I have always considered that looks, for a guy, was always about making sure that he does not look ugly enough for girls to run away screaming. Metrosexualism was a relatively new trend of thought, one which gives metrosexual guy an edge over your regular males just by having the virtue of being better groomed, and thus, has a higher chance of err, getting a chick to sleep with him. See, part of a guy's motivation in nurturing a personal image is always about increasing their marketability; their chance of getting laid.

Why some guys nurture a self-image which repulses heterosexual women is beyond my ken.

A short walk in Mahkota Parade today convinced me that the demographic of girly boys is a growing one. I spotted many guys exhibiting shockingly feminine behaviour. There's this one guy, for example, who was clinging to his girlfriend's arm with both his hands and arms while they were walking (the girl was slightly taller than him) in the exactly same way Phoebe clings to me while we walk. I also notice that some apparel shops for men sell clothes that are cut in the women's fashion and came in colours that guys used to find disgusting, even offensive. The guys wearing pink shirts thing is a particularly disturbing phenomenon - considering that pink is considered by most scientists to be the cissiest colour in the entire visible spectrum.

Aside from all that, I also realise that there are more guys these days that are afraid of cockroaches, mice, and other harmless everyday creatures which would quite literally make them scream like a girl on encountering them. I find that really disgraceful, and felt that such guys give the rest of us a really bad name. I have heard complaints (frequent ones, at that) from girls saying that guys these days are bitchier, more vindictive and enjoy gossip far too much - negative behaviours which girls themselves admit to be feminine traits.

Why are men gravitating towards cissy-dom?

This reminds me of this episode of Wild Sex on Animal Planet which documents bizarre sexual strategies employed in the animal kingdom about a species of squid. The big, tough males of this species would spend a lot of time posturing, metaphorically flexing its tentacles to drive away other males from their females in their territories. There are males of the same species which looks exactly like the females - transvestites, technically - which are able to sneak past the muscle-headed males and screw their girlfriends behind their backs. I can't see a similar advantage in humankind seen in that particular species of squid-dom in being cissy, though.

Does being girly allow guys to be better in touch with female sensitivities, making them more desirable mates than your standard insensitive, testosterone-oozing dude? Are girly guys more docile and make better family men? Does being girly allow guys to have a better chance at seducing a lesbian? I honestly consider the male desire to sleep with lesbians to be a major evolutionary force.

Okay, I'll be more direct here; Ladies, do you want your boyfriend to be a wuss?

I don't think so.

Also by the laws of natural selection, the percentage of effeminate guys in the human population ought to have dwindled to nothingness - or at least, just plateau at a tiny constant above zero. The fact that more and more guys are becoming girls is just plain weird.

Having no ready explanations, I blame Japan.

Definitely Japanese.

Paragon of sensible maleness,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Top 12 Photographs I Took at the Mysore Zoo

"Zoo: An excellent place to study the habits of human beings."

Evan Esar

Dude, you took the words right out of my mouth and made them awesome!

Okay, it's either I'm still on Tioman Island or I'm on a bus slowly cutting across the peninsula back to Malacca - I'm a bit sketchy about the schedule because I didn't plan it. Heck, I was sketchy about my school timetables even though I lived them on repeat every single week, changing them only annually, for the past 18 years of my life (counting kindergarten, though I can't really remember if I had a timetable back them). I'm that guy who calls my classmate on the day before the yearly medical school university exam asking what subject comes first and where they are holding the exam.

The thing is, I wrote this post right after I wrote the last one, so it's me again speaking to you from the past, only this time I'm speaking from sometime further back - while I am still either on Tioman or on a bus. Gosh, this is giving me existential headaches.

Okay, my bus to Mersing leaves in a couple of hours so I'm keeping this snappy. Twelve pictures with captions. In actuality, I took about a bajillion pictures at the Mysore Zoo but lucky for you, I have narrowed it down to just a dozen of the ones I think are most well-shot or funny.

So, here they are, on an ascending order of entertainment value. The best is at the bottom,


1. Phoebe and a gaur, which is the name they give to cows on steroids in India.


2. A Tapir. Or Tenuk. Or Cipan. I always wondered why this animal has so many Malay names. I'm liking the snout though. It's so disapproving.


3. Ever been intimidated by a tall guy before? It's kind of like that - only worse.


4. Not every animal are in cages and enclosures in the Mysore Zoo.


5. I'll have you know I risk life, limb and rabies to get this shot. You DON'T stand in the way of monkeys. It's a very stupid thing to do and I am indeed very stupid. Lucky for me, this monkey was quite placid (or have already eaten, thank you very much) and appears to be considering a detour. I like to see one of our skinny-ass Olympic gymnasts balance on a bar this narrow. Wait, scrape that; I rather see a very fat man try to balance on a bar this narrow.


6. A very happy hippo. I overheard a man saying to his son, "Look, dinosaur!"


7. Forest Gump doing it wrong (Wow, would you just check that gorilla ass out?).


8. I caught this show on Animal Planet the other night and I learnt that an elephant's penis is prehensile (that is, for you people who failed English in high school, the ability to move its penis like it moves its trunk). Now, if only the human penis is prehensile, I bet our ladies would be a whole lot more happier in the bedroom. For the record, the elephant in the picture was just standing there, letting its massive dong sway in the wind - probably getting off from making us feel ridiculously inferior. "You may have got me locked up here, but I still have the bigger dick!"


9. Or maybe the elephant was just making this chimp feel inferior. "It's in there, somewhere. I swear I just saw it last week!"


10. I'm under the impression that this chimp feels that it makes him very attractive sitting that way.


11. Phoebe made me take this picture. She was practically screaming, "AAAHHH! LOOK, LOOK! THE BUTT IS HEART SHAPE! TAKE A PICTURE! FASTER TAKE A PICTURE!!!"


12. It's the same ape as the one above and I assume that it must be really comfortable sitting on that butt. I'll never look at heart-shaped cushions the same way again. I don't know if you see it like how I see it but this is just frankly ludicrous. The solemn expression on his face, the deadly looking fangs, the crazy hair, the way he's clutching his toes like a baby that just got the hang of sitting... He's all "I is big chief of monkeys. I sit laik dis."

P.S. The Mysore Zoo is seriously the best zoo I have ever been to. Phoebs and I couldn't even see all the animals in there. It's always worth a visit if you're ever in Mysore.

Is coming back from Tioman soon,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, September 15, 2008

Let's Talk About Mysore

"A day without sunshine is like, you know, night."

Steve Martin

As you are reading this, I am currently basking in the sun on Tioman Island (or burning, if I have forgotten to slather some sun lotion on). As soon as blogger introduced the scheduled posting feature, I have always wanted to try it out. It's freaky, huh? It's like there's two of me now; one talking to you here and the other me is holidaying on some tropical island out on the South China Sea. And the 'me' writing to you right now was me in the past - well, the past for you that is, but as I'm writing this it is still very much present, and I am still in Malacca and have not yet set out for Tioman yet. Trippy...

Remember my last travelogue about Bangalore? Remember that ghastly experience Phoebs and I went through at the bus station? I seemed to have neglected to mention that one of the straps of my backpack snapped while I was walking under the heavy rain looking for the bus to Mysore. If you've ever backpacked, you'd realise how much trouble that amounted to. It happened at the worst time possible and basically, any time a backpack's heavy enough to snap one of its straps, it's always the worst time possible.

We did make it to Mysore finally and checked into Hotel Dasaprakash at about 3:00 am. Here's Phoebe at 8:00 am the morning after,

It wasn't because it was cold. It's to shut out my irritating blather about her missing the day.

I'm not that big a fan of sleeping when I'm on vacation, usually. Besides, I needed to hunt down a cobbler to get my backpack fixed and to get a pair of slippers to wear while waiting for my Timberlands to dry out. After I got back at a more amicable time (to a still sleeping Phoebe), I practically rolled her out of bed to bathe before the entire day flew by.

We did managed some decent sightseeing on that first day,

The 1927 Silver Jubilee Clock Tower.

The Mysore Palace.

The Mysore Palace closer-up.

Phoebe, violating the Maharaja's decree about touching his majesty's tigers.

Don't enter the rose garden? Mole-hill garden more like.

The inside of the palace is tastefully (or what counted as tasteful in the past century anyway) decorated with a kaleidoscope of stained glass, family portraits, mosaic floors, massive chandeliers, ornately carved wooden doors and a whole lot of other things which belong in a museum somewhere. Amidst its gaudiness and age-mellowed painful mixtures of colours, I have to admit that it's all pretty impressive. Phoebs and I actually spent a quarter of an hour sitting on some prettily tiled steps in one of the palace's great halls reading - y'know, just to know what its like reading novels in a palace (doesn't everyone?).

Anyway, the reason I'm describing the interior instead of showing you pictures of it is because - I wasn't allowed to bring my camera inside. I don't know why's that but I suspect they are just afraid that the rest of the world would find out just how bad their taste in home furnishing is.

Then we hit the Devaraja Market,

Those colourful piles of something are kumkum. Remember those bindi dots you sometime see on married Indian women? These are the stuff they use.

I don't know about you but I find the sight of vegetables to be quite pleasant.

... and there's a lot of that here.


Later, after dinner, we took a stroll back to the palace (the city is pretty compact) to see if they, by some fluke, turned on their famous 96,000 light bulbs that day. As a rule, they only do that on Sundays from 8:00 to 9:00 pm and during the festival of Dusshera, but you never know right?

No such luck, however,

But it's still pretty darn bright.

On our walk back to our hotel, we saw this doll or mannequin standing outside a children's apparel store which came straight out of the Uncanny Valley,

Stare deeply into her eye and you can see Satan masturbating to child porn.

The next day, we caught a public bus to Chamundi Hill, which overlooks the city of Mysore, and visited the Sri Chamundeswari Temple,

Big 7-storey, 40 metre high gopuram.

Well, devotees are suppose to brave the 1000-something steps up but lucky for me, I didn't feel particularly religious that day so I only took the stairs down. It's a seriously sweet picnic of a walk if you like hill-views and shrubberies and all that but if you're the sort of person who uses the elevator when it's more than two-storeys high, I urge you not to try this because you're a wimp,

This is how to get sore feet in Mysore. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Stairs: defeating wimps since the 12th century.

Nice wildflowers growing beside the stairs. They are invisible to wimps.

About one third of the way down, you'll see this,

That's a lot of bull.

It's a 5 metre high Nandi (or in simple Westron, Shiva's ride) carved out of a single solid rock in 1659. Is it just me or the ancients really have a lot of time on their hands? Maybe it's just that they didn't have television and the internet back then.

Just a bit of a warning here though; if you aren't that big of a fan of Shiva or Hinduism, you might want to avoid taking a garland of flowers from a guy standing just outside the fence who looks as if he's giving them out for free and going near the bull to pay whatever token respect you feel you need to pay to it. That's because the flower garland guy charges like crazy for them and the priest dude (in the picture) always insists you leave a bit of cash at the bull's feet after you walk around it. And of course, you being the foreign sap you are, can't risk offending the locals by not abiding by their customs.

After Phoebs and I were gently extorted by the tag team, another group of tourists (locals, by the look of them) stopped by. They, however, had the smarts to completely ignore the flower garland guy and after praying to the Nandi, didn't even leave a single rupee.

It's all pretty funny on retrospect.

A millipede I spotted on the rest of the way down sporting racing stripes! Now I've seen everything.

After our little hill excursion, I finally brought Phoebs to the Mysore Zoo, which was by far the most exciting experience we both had in Mysore - especially for Phoebs. She's so much like a child that I sometime wonder if I'm something of a covert paedophile for dating her. In fact, I read some really interesting articles on paedophilia recently and I might put my thoughts about it in a post soon.

Oh, and about the zoo, I'll show you some pretty neat photographs I took there in the next travelogue. One of them is a riot, I tell you. Phoebs laughs everytime she sees it.

P.S. Phoebs, remind me to borrow your copy of Lolita the next time I see you.

P.P.S. It's a pity we didn't have time to see St Philomena's Cathedral. Pictures of it look seriously awesome.

P.P.P.S. I gotta stop going on new vacations before I even finish writing about my old ones.A casual reader might assume that I'm perpetually on holiday or something.

Currently in Tioman,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, September 13, 2008

We, the People of Malaysia

"Give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself."

Robert Ingersoll

There is fear out on the streets now. The headlines we now see are preludes to something monstrous awaiting to launch this country into the worst times of her history. An animal is most dangerous when it has been pushed into a corner and is forced to fight for its survival. It is then foolish to continue pushing it in such unsubtle and direct fashion - and more so when that animal is a big one and has a large gun it isn't afraid to point at its tormentors.

The Internal Security Act (ISA) is that gun. For those who are a little sketchy about what it really is, I'll explain; it is a preventive detention law in force in Malaysia and it allows the arrest and detention of any person without the need for trial for a maximum period of 2 years, which can be renewed indefinitely. That's a whole lot of raw power, politic-wise. Having it in the hands of a person, or a fraternity of people from the same party who have an understandable personal agenda of staying in power, it's pretty much the Hand of God. Just dial a number and it reaches down and smite whosoever that stands in the wielder's way. We have witnessed its use in the past under the flimsiest of pretexts but of late, it seemed to have abandoned the need of pretexts even and is used under whatever crime the accuser wants the victim to be guilty of.

Raja Petra Kamaruddin, founder and editor of the popular Malaysian news blog, Malaysia Today, was detained for the second time under the ISA on the 12th of September 2008 (yesterday, yes), for allegedly insulting Islam and the prophet Muhammad - whether RPK, who is Muslim himself and has a sizable Muslim readership, really did do what was accused of him or that involving the faith is just a convenient way of calling the automatic outrage of Malaysia's Muslim population onto RPK's head and ensuring that people don't ask awkward questions like "Evidence?" (thus discouranging a deeper look into the validity of the arrest), is a matter up for debate.

On the same day, Tan Hoon Cheng, the journalist from Sin Chew Jit Poh who had reported on the Ahmad Ismail inflammatory speech in which he labelled the Chinese population of Malaysia as squatters (and therefore, not entitled to rights), was also arrested under the ISA for, from what I can garner, absolutely no reason at all. What elevated this arrest to the zenith of ridiculousness is the fact that Datuk Ahmad Ismail, the then-chief of the Bukit Bendera division of UMNO who made that remark, who refused to apologise for it despite urgings from the Prime Minister and the Deputy, who called a press conference demanding an apology for being asked to apologise, who likened the Chinese to American Jews, who threatened to shoot the reporter who reported his speech, who then, in the same press conference, tore down the picture of his state leader and proceeded to smash it to pieces, only got off with a three-year suspension from UMNO.

A few hours after Tan's arrest, the ISA hammer descended on Teresa Kok, assemblywoman for Kinrara, for allegedly submitting a petition to a mosque in Puchong to lower down the volume of the azan, the Islamic call to prayer. She didn't submit said petition. In fact, the petition didn't say anything about the Azan at all (a copy HERE) - it's only a request for the reducing of the speakers' volume during the Ceramah, the Kuliah Subuh and Kuliah Maghrib. Why does any issue concerning religion immediately illicit such ignorant knee-jerk reactions and outcry without even the semblance of an attempt at trying to understand that the issue at hand isn't really a religious matter at all?

The inherent evil that ties all these arrests together is the ISA which, I shall say again, is as close to absolute power as anything is in this country - and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Anyone can be imprisoned and silenced indefinitely under it without trial and, as we have witnessed in recent days, without even reasons at all. Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, our Prime Minister, said that "The government will not use ISA without concrete reason" and his words rang pathetically hollow in my ears. Where is Justice? I ask this without anger or outrage. I ask this because I lament the fact that I can no longer see it. Where is Justice? Where is it now?

The ISA is a violation against human rights and when I say "human rights", I am referring to the rights of all Malaysians, of all the people living in this world. It's not a violation of the rights of the Chinese people. It's not a violation of the rights of the Malays, or Indians or whatsoever ethnicity that fate has ordained you to belong to. It's a violation of OUR rights, OUR rights as human beings. Maybe the ISA has not touched you. Maybe the ISA is just this semi-real threat which only happens to "other people". Or maybe you just agree with the government's initiative of arresting these "seditious malcontents" in the name of National Security. One day, when you cease to agree with the person who controls the government, or when someone whose policies you feel are unable to consent to takes power - you'll find that the ISA is very real, very wrong, and knows exactly where you live.

There are people from certain quarters who can simultaneously condemn the ISA for being the evil tool of tyranny it is - while calling for its warped brand of justice onto the likes of Datuk Ahmad Ismail. This is hypocrisy. This is "doublethink" at its finest. George Orwell, when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, coined the term to describe the act of accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as being simultaneously correct, conforming to either when the situation calls for it. I do not want the ISA to be pointed at anyone. I want it to be destroyed. It hasn't reached my family, my friends or me yet - but I don't want to wait till it does. Why then, people of Malaysia, are you waiting?

People have speculated that the recent slew of arrests under the ISA are just baits. The people behind them wants people to come out and protest, to make a whole lot of hoohah which, after all is said and done, would do not an inch of good for both us and the detainees. What it'll probably do is give an excuse to the government to enforce Emergency laws in the face of imminent mass unrest and to consolidate their power. The events of these days are bearing more than a passing similarity to those leading up to the Tragedy of May 13 - and it was a TRAGEDY, people, for everyone regardless of race or creed.

Communicate your disappointment and discontentment through safer channels and with discretion. Speak through your blogs, on the internet, on this very last inch of our freedom because it is of utmost importance that people do not remain ignorant of the rotten state of our country. I am here to say, and I believe I speak for everyone; I do not care which party rule my country, be it Barisan Nasional, the Opposition or whatever. The only thing I care about is that that party do right by the people of Malaysia.

P.S. I will vote in the next General Election.

k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ronald McDonald, You Son of a Bitch

"We were taken to a fast food café where our order was fed into a computer. Our hamburgers, made from the flesh of chemically impregnated cattle, had been broiled over counterfeit charcoal, placed between slices of artificially flavored cardboard and served to us by recycled juvenile delinquents."

Jean Michel Chapereau

Just a little more than a week and a half ago, I landed in KLIA after spending a whole year abroad in India and I returned to Malacca finding the town to be a whole lot more foreign than when I left it. I spent the first few days just chilling in my room, reading and occasionally venturing out after midnight to look for food so I don't starve to death. A few days later, some old Taylor's College classmates came down from KL, so I brought them to a few choice eating places that every Malaccan can be proud of and finding, with much relief, that these places have not changed the least bit.

Then, a few days ago at about 1:00 am, after discovering that my favourite 24 hour yong tau fu place was closed for the day (night?), so I set my course to the nearest other 24 hour restaurant in the district; the Pahlawan Megamall McDonald's.

There, I ordered an evergreen classic, the McChicken burger and what the cashier set on my tray made me want to scream,

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The horrors! The inhumanity! Someone get me a gun, quick! There's someone I want to shoot for this.

The McChicken came in a goddamn box!

When did this fucking happen?! And more importantly, why didn't anyone fucking warn me?!

I didn't actually scream, per se, but I did stare at it for a smidgen too long - actually prompting the cashier to ask me if there's anything wrong. Yes, there's a friggin' box on my tray, I wanted to answer but thought better of it.

There was a time long ago when fast food always meant either McDonald's or KFC. It wasn't much of a toss for me between the two because I was always more partial to McD's. The reason, however, isn't so much a matter of taste or quality as it is about getting my hands greasy and covered in sauce.That's what happens every time I go for KFC - those fried chickens leak more grease than an oil tanker disaster - but you can hardly blame them, really. Fried chickens are different from burgers, which are round and can easily be wrapped with a sheet of greaseproof paper (which McD's used to do, if you remember).

Then later, when KFC introduced the Zinger - their flagship burger with a fillet of their awesome crispy fried chicken in it - which I discovered, with much disappointment, comes in a box. I ordered the Zinger on a grand total of one occasion, and never again for years after. There was mayonnaise all over my fingers and even after washing them with water, there's still a residual sheen of oil left on them. That's not good. Its not fast food if you got to spend more than 10 minutes getting your hands clean. McD's burgers are simply elegant, in comparison. Just unwrap one side and bite. You don't even need to wash your hands before (or after) you eat.

McD's marketing strategies are what I often cite as the reason for their success over KFC in Malaysia. KFC is known for their horrible decisions on a bad string of gimmicky, overpriced products (remember the Bandito, people? and their crappy fish burger?) and pulling out genuinely awesome products off their menu shortly after introduction (The Waikiki Burger, for example, which is basically Zinger with a pineapple ring. For a while, it made me willing to forgive KFC's burger-in-a-box and ate one for lunch everyday).

If I'm not mistaken, KFC, in the past few years at least, have started wrapping their Zingers with greaseproof paper. I consider it to be either a sign that KFC have started to concede to McD's genius or that KFC have fired their worthless marketing execs and managed to woo some of McD's people over to their side. I'm in favour of the latter theory because apparently, McD's hired KFC's old, jobless marketing execs who then somehow - I don't know how - managed to convince the Boss of Golden Arches that taking their burgers out of their greaseproof wrappers and putting them into fucking boxes is a good fucking idea.

Also, I think making cardboard boxes uses a lot more paper, and hence, cuts down more trees - not to mention that a customer would have to use a ton of paper napkins after getting a sloppy mess on their hands from a burger from a box. You want statistics? Here's one; I used to use an average of two serviettes in every visit to McD's in the past. Now I use five.

I'm pretty green, as far as Malaysians go - I refuse plastic bags whenever I can and carry my own shopping bag. And I have stopped driving up to KL too and went back to using buses instead.

I foresee that I'll be visiting the 24 hours KFC in Gajah Berang a lot more often now. Burger King too would most likely see a lot more of me in the daylight hours and even though their burgers are more expensive, they at least have the decency to taste a whole lot better than McD's (take that, burger-boxing corporate scums).

McD's fan in protest,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'd Like You to Meet My New Best Friend

... her name is Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ-15.

Say "cli-ick"!

Okay, the above picture isn't very good but that's because it's a just a mirror reflection and my room's rather dark. Wait, saying my room is dark is understating it. It's right in the middle of the house with no windows or doors which open to the outdoors - that means zero natural light. In a way though, it appeals to my morbid sense of aesthetics and my personal preference to do any work at night.

On the other hand, I think I'm beginning to wilt.

I haven't been playing with it as much as I should (lots of reading to do, see) but here's a couple of pictures I took last week,

Taken through a car's windscreen - on a moving car (and you know it's moving pretty fast 'cause it's yellow light).

A Malacca River I hardly recognise. I'm loving the 16:9 ratio, baby.

As for the features, I'll just read off the box here, okay?
  • Leica DC Lens [Whatever that is.]
  • Mega O.I.S. [I think it has something to do with image stabilising because there's a little cartoon beside the words depicting what looks like a shivering camera.]
  • 10x optical zoom [Finally, something written in English! It's one of the reason I chose this baby here. I like photographing animals - and trying to slowly creep up to a squirrel really takes a lot out of a man. Plus, I heard that no other compact in the business has this much firepower.]
  • Wide angle, 28 mm (35 mm EQUIV.) [I don't know what the numbers mean but WIDE ANGLE!!! WHEEE!!!]
  • 9.1 megapixels [The downside of this is each picture I snap takes up at least 3 megabytes in the memory card. And no, I don't want to lower the size. I got 9.1 megapixels and I'm going to use each and every one of them. So there.]
  • 460,000 Dots 3.0 inch Large LCD [Makes my old 2.5 inch look like a postage stamp.]
  • Face Detection [I usually turn this off because... let's put it this way; how many pictures in my blog actually contain faces?]
  • Digital Red-eye Correction [But red-eyes are coooool!!!]
There's also a sundry of little features which I think I read somewhere while leafing through the manual like having this ability found on many recent DSLRs to preserve highlights while brightening shadow area (something I manually perform to the best of my ability with Adobe Photoshop with pictures from my old camera). If I understand my photo lingo, it means that my skies are no longer a featureless, white facade. Oh, there's also an option to record high definition videos and the ability to zoom while filming. Sweet, but ultimately quite useless for me because I don't shoot videos.

A lot of people asked me why I didn't get a DSLR instead - which I'd like to, by the way - but look people, I'm not made of money. Besides, I want a travel camera - something pocket-sized which I can whip out at a moment's notice - not something you can potentially win a cage match at the WWE with by repeatedly introducing it to your opponent's head.

Anyhow, time to get back to my books, kids. I wish I'd feel stoked enough to write proper articles again soon. I have a 'Dear X' letter I have been planning to write with X being 'the Chinese People of Malaysia' and a rant about McDonald's heinous crime against humanity. At the moment, I have both feet squelching in the doldrums.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Vacation of First Time Authors

"Everyone probably thinks that I'm a raving nymphomaniac, that I have an insatiable sexual appetite, when the truth is I'd rather read a book."


She also claims to be English.

Before I lock, load and fire my blog into full travelogue mode, there's something that I would like to do first before I procrastinate enough to completely forget about it - that is, a book review; a double review, to be exact. I finished 4 books during the two weeks I was out and about in the Indian south (The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams). Phoebe did a respectable 2 and a half books herself (Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and half of Gaiman's Neverwhere). We're just that sort of people who carry (several) books with us wherever we go.

The two books I'll be talking about in this post are, as the title of this post clearly outlined, the works of first time authors Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch. I know firsthand how hard it is for a discerning fan of speculative fiction to wade through the heavy pollution of the commercial book market and surface with anything even halfway decent or original. It's not without due justice that most literati (read; bloody elitists) consider fantasy to be a largely frivolous and rubbishy genre - and it certainly doesn't help the genre's image that a lot of fantasy novels have covers which look like this,

Sure, women regularly fought the forces of evil wearing nothing but tight g-stri... wait, is that the creepy frog thing's crotch she's groping?

So, like I was saying, I'm here to point my fellow Malaysian speculative fiction aficionados to the right books by spreading the word about two absolute gems I managed to trawl from the mire. Read bravely on, people,

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day 1) by Patrick Rothfuss

Hey, this isn't bad at all!

There's nothing I can say which can do The Name of the Wind more justice than this excerpt taken straight out of the book,

"I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make minstrels weep.

My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me."

That got me completely hooked the first time I read that in a book review somewhere. If there's ever an entire novel written with the Rule of Cool in mind, that novel is this.

The book itself was written largely from a first person's narrative - Kvothe's, the titular Kingkiller, naturally - recounting his life's tale to Devan Lochees (or The Chronicler, as he is better known in the story) who tracked him down in some insignificant medieval everytown masquerading as an innkeeper under the alias 'Kote', for reasons yet to reveal themselves. Kvothe conceded to telling Lochees his story but he would only do so under the enigmatic condition that it must be done within the span of 3 days.

I am not going to spoil Kvothe's colourful and exciting past for you so I'll just tell you that it is equal parts Oliver Twist and A Wizard of Earthsea by the incomparable Madam Ursula K. LeGuin. Indeed, the part about Kvothe's enrollment and education at the University can almost be called plagiarism of Madam LeGuin's telling of Sparrowhawk's study on the wizarding school of Roke in A Wizard of Earthsea - there's even a Master Namer in Kvothe's University, as was there in Roke, and Kvothe's rich, affluent, rival in the University, Ambrose, can almost be mistaken for a distant cousin of Jasper, Sparrowhawk's nemesis on Roke. I am willing to forgive that, however, in view that Rothfuss's University is a shade more well-painted than Roke. You can almost believe that such an institution exists in our world from the little details that the author had included in describing it; the options of accomodations available to the students, the sort of entertainment available in a nearby city which and earthy subjects like Rhetorics and Arithmetics taught alongside its more fantastic courses of study. Being a campus rat myself, I can easily draw parallels from Kvothe's University to my own.

Kvothe's story in this first of three books detailed his young life with his parents who are part of a troupe of traveling performers and storytellers, the circumstances which led him to the University and how he, in the end, discover what he had came to sought since he was a child; the Name of the Wind. How part of his overall notoriety was gained from even his early days in the University was particularly delightful to read about.

Kvothe's story was punctuated by short moments in the present where strange happening were occuring around him, the Chronicler and his apprentice, Bast; hinting at a much greater story to follow in the sequels. Bast himself is an incredibly intriguing character. Not much is said in the novel about his origins, his motives for following Kvothe and even less of his violently, bizarre actions towards the end of the book - but I am dying to find out.

The hardcover of the second book, The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day 2) would be out next April, and goodness knows when a paperback would follow. Why couldn't I have stumbled on a completed work?

Score: 8/10

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Why, this cover is downright cool, even.

I like The Lies of Locke Lamora even more than I did The Name of the Wind. It' is set in a fantasy version of medieval Venice called Camorr which is chiefly peopled by three main classes of society; the peers (the nobility), the merchants and all the criminals you can stuff in between the first two. I truly marvel at Mr Lynch's eye for complexity. The silent, omnious, indestructible Elderglass towers which dominates the city's skyline, the only remains of a mysterious race who once lived there, hinted at deep back story which I hope will be sufficiently plumbed in this book's subsequent sequels. The science of alchemical botany is another of Camorr's charm which, while doing a lot to enrich the background of the story, is allowed to operate at a very ambient and low key level so that it does not distract from the narrative. The underworld of Camorr is perhaps the most colourful element of Camorr; gangs and criminal guilds operating competitively with one another, each led by a garrista (or captain), answerable only to Capa Barsavi, the garrista of garristas - basically the Godfather of Camorr.

Locke Lamora was bought by Father Chains from the Thiefmaker, who found a niche in Camorr's criminal underworld training orphans to be a thieves. Locke, although an incredibly talented pickpocket and schemer, had forced the Thiefmaker's hand in getting rid of him because, well, he did something that the Thiefmaker couldn't risk his other charges knowing for fear of losing his authority for good - I'll leave you to find out what that is.

Father Chains is the leader of the Gentlemen Bastards, which Locke will later helm (the series is called The Gentleman Bastard Sequence, by the way). Under the tutelage of Father Chains, Locke and his colleagues learnt an exciting and profitable new method of stealing, the then-unheard-of art of con-artistry, and stole chiefly from the peers of Camorr - in violation of the Secret Peace, which is an agreement between the nobility and Capa Barsavi that protects the peers from theft.

The confidence games which Locke and his crew carry out are exhilarating examples of magnificent bastardry, calling to mind heist flicks like Ocean's Eleven. They are so successful in preying on the peers that they actually managed to accumulate more money than they can possibly spend.

What I truly enjoy about Mr Lynch's style of writing is the little flashbacks into Locke's and his friend's childhoods in between chapter of the main plot which offer deep insights in to the characters' motivations and actions in the present. In fact, the book's climax wouldn't have worked so incredibly well if it wasn't for one of those past anecdotes. Additionally, Locke Lamora's relationship with Jean Tannen is one of the few rare instances in speculative fiction of a truly believable friendship.

Mr Lynch is also a real master at characterisation and his Locke Lamora is a welcome throwback to protagonists that a reader can truly care about. I never really cared about Harry Potter of the Potter books (especially after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), or Nathaniel from the Bartimaeus Trilogy (except in the last book). Heck, I can't even remember the name of the protagonist of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere! Locke Lamora is different. Whether it's because he's such a magnificent bastard or because of his positively Dickensian orphan backstory, you will clap your hands over each of his victories, hold your breath in his moments of peril and weep at his losses.

Jean Tannen is another rare triumph of characterisation. I can honestly say that if a sequel is written centered only around him, with no Locke Lamora at all, I'd still read it.

Actually, the second book is out. It's called Red Seas Under Red Skies, an unlikely mixture of a casino heist and a pirate adventure. The only reason I haven't bought it yet is because I couldn't find one with the same sort of cover art as my first book.

The Lies of Locke Lamora put in me a thirst I have not experienced in a long time, one that makes me say, "I wonder what would Locke and Jean do next?" - which is not at all the same as "I wonder what will happen next." Yes, there's a big difference between the two.

Score: 9/10

P.S. Both The Name of the Wind and The Lies of Locke Lamora are published by Gollancz. I think I'll keep a close eye out for books from this publishing house in the future.

P.P.S. I'm thinking of devoting a small section in my sidebar for short book reviews, much like my movie review box. What do you guys think?

Has a whole new respect for first time authors,
k0k s3n w4i