Friday, September 28, 2007

Tea with Myn Wee

"Well, I read quite a lot of serious stuff like Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True and Khaled Hosseini's Kite Runner."

Myn Wee, in response to a question I asked her

"Never even heard of them, haha"


I'm allergic to serious.

Memories of people-you-know-little-of tend to meld into a bit of putty over time. Of course, I am not saying that we forget them outright but we tend to only remember them for their single most defining feature. It's like a great uncle from Penang I have who only visits once a year when I was little and stopped visiting about ten years ago, and the only thing I remember about him is that he loves peanuts. In fact, it was such a defining feature of him that I only ever refer to him as "fah sang kong" - literally, Grandpa Peanut. Actually, I also remember him for his daughter (first cousin once removed; the most beautiful woman I have ever clapped eyes on in my life, by the way), but that's a whole different thread of memory altogether.

Anyway, my point is people we knew and see little of becomes one-dimensional over the years, defined only by one or two distinctive traits in our minds.

When I was in the third or fourth form in high school, a classmate, Andre, was telling me about hot swimmer girls he met before and he told me about a certain Myn Wee who was one of the toppers in his book (I actually wrote whoppers instead of toppers, seeing that we're talking about bathing beauties).

Myn Wee was nothing more than a name to a pretty face in the yearbooks of her school
1 to me till I was in the Fifth Form, when we chatted for the first time through that ancient communication device known as the ICQ. The smattering of conversations we had subsequently led to her borrowing a book from me, The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien. And even then, I did not get to meet her because the book was passed between us by a middle person.

Remember what I said earlier about one-dimensional memories of people? Here's my memory of her, for the longest time;

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"Beautiful" is hardly the adjective I'd choose to call this book. I'm leaning towards "fatally dull".

It was that of a thank-you note slipped in between the pages of The Silmarillion when I got it back.

And there I was thinking that people who write thank-you notes have all but gone the way of the dodos. How sweet of her.

We bumped into each other a few times in college too but we never exchanged more than a couple of lines every time. If you're reading this, Myn Wee, I just wanna say tell you that those times I walked right by you without saying hi, I really didn't see you! Honest! I was pretty much lost in thoughts half the time.

Then for more than a couple of years, I heard nothing about her till someone told me that she got into some pageant thing;

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Lifted from her Friendster. Without permission as usual. Glamorous, no?

And I found out (recently, actually - like a few minutes ago by reading her sash) that it was the Miss Malaysia World 2007. Third runner-up, no less, so she's now officially the fourth hottest girl in Malaysia!

My one-dimensional mental picture of her changed after that. On top of her being that hot swimmer chick who wrote a thank-you note back in high school, she's also the Beauty Queen.

So when the Beauty Queen called me earlier this week2 saying that she was in an MPH bookstore and wondered if I could recommend any good reads, I was incredibly surprised - mainly because I had not a flippin' idea how she got my number since I'm not even very sure of it myself3. And I was perplexed by why she would call someone she hadn't talked to in years for that.

Of course, the answer to the latter came to me almost immediately afterwards; her one-dimensional memory of me must be that of a pathological book nerd - I wonder if I should be sad or glad about that.

You may heard of that
'there is no greater joy of a person who loves books than to be asked for his opinion of them', and if you haven't heard of this particular saying, that's because I have never told it to you. Anyway,I proceeded to rattle off titles and authors from my mind that I supposed MPH may possibly include in their pathetic rather limited selection (I cannot be sure though because I haven't properly visited an MPH outlet in ages). Myn Wee's failure to find any of them instantly reminded me why I don't anymore.

Finally, she managed to locate George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones4, a book of high repute which I recently bought but have yet to start reading. I, being the soul of generosity I usually am, offered to lend her some from my little library ('the second greatest joy of a person who loves books is to make other people read their favourites').

Yesterday, I received an SMS that read; "Oy, Myn Wee here. Does your book offer still stand?"

It led to our first proper meeting at my usual wireless internet haunt of Starbucks in Mahkota Parade.

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This is her without makeup.

When she sat down in front of me with a green tea frappe, I confess I experienced a small niggle of disappointment. That's because I half-expected her to appear in her full pageant regalia; the sash, flowers, tiara... the works! Preposterous, I know, but it's just one of the perils of having these defining monochrome images of people you haven't met in a long time (and a distorted perception of reality, I was told - I think my Mom smoked pot when she had me). I also imagined that she speaks with a British accent, though I really have no bloody idea how that came about at all.

"So many books!" she exclaimed when she spotted the rather full Kinokuniya paper-bag I brought with me - twelve (or some number of similar magnitude, I didn't count) of my favourite reads which I thought she might like.

The conversation we had yesterday were inclined towards literature and the dreary existence of a medical student (a favourite topic of the calling, of which both of us got stuck in). I was delighted to discover that she had read my favourite novel and liked it for the same reasons I did. I also learned that she reads incredibly fast too (she already finished A Game of Thrones). It's always a pleasure to talk to someone who reads as much as she does. I mean, just how many beauty queens you know who like to read? I know just one5. In different circumstances, we might have been better friends.

As we talked, I noticed that she occasionally sipped from a small white paper cup containing what I assumed to be warm water. I supposed she did it to stave off head-freeze.

Darn, why didn't I think of that before? If you have ever seen a dude in his early twenties clutching his head in agony after every sip of his ice-blended in the Starbucks of Mahkota Parade, there's a very good chance that that was me.

She left at 4.50 pm to pick up her Francissy6 brother from school. There goes another old friend I'll probably never see again *Sigh*.

For some reason or other, the wireless internet in Starbucks ceased to function after that, and I was forced to leave myself. I forgot to ask her whether Mae's her real English name or was it something she made up for the pageant. If she did, she could have just used the nickname I gave her back in the Fifth Form.

Debbie sounds so much more like her, if you ask me.

Bye bye, Debbie.

Ticked "Have tea with a beauty queen" off
the list of things he wants to do before he dies,
k0k s3n w4i

1 Reading yearbooks from convent schools was a perfectly respectable way for a young man to pass his time in my days.
2 Or last week; my concept of time is a bit warped.
3 You should expect as much from a guy who doesn't know the day of the week.
4 The first book of the
A Song of Ice and Fire series.
5Actually, I know only one beauty queen of any sort at all, not counting the Associate Professor of Biochemistry in Manipal, Madam Maya Roche, Miss Mangalore circa 300BC.
6 There is an ancient (albeit pointless) rivalry between my high school and the St. Francis Institute. Old enmities die hard.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fish Out Of Water

"Sorrow is tranquility remembered in emotion."

Dorothy Parker, American writer and poet

It was 6.00 am and the expected tide of early morning breakfasters have yet to wash ashore the McDonald's of Pahlawan Mall. The sky was still inky black, indiscernible from every other chapters of the night but the strangely, I can tell that sunup was close - even without the help of clock. We can always tell when sunup is close. There is definitely something in the air at dawn - something tangible. It's just one of those things you can't put in words however hard you try.

I ordered a Sausage McMuffin with Egg like I always did for breakfast at McDOnald's - I have never ordered anything else. My ex-girlfriend favoured the Big Breakfast but I never did see the sense of that. The Sausage McMuffin with Egg has everything the Big Breakfast has, and it comes assembled to boot.

Besides, I prefer my eggs Teflon-circled.

Scooping up my tray, I headed out of the air-conditioned interior for the tables outside - for the outdoorsy types and the adventurous, and those who want to boldly eat where no man have eaten before.

"Today, I dine alfresco," I thought to myself. James taught me that word, I remember. He was my roommate for a year when I attended Taylor's College in Subang Jaya.

By then, the sky was no longer black, but was in a heraldic shade of navy blue. The frigidity of the night had changed into the crispness of daybreak, and I discovered - in that short moment of absentmindedness I spent soaking up the morning - that I have been joined by another early breakfaster;

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Oh, it's doing the eye thing. Potent shit.

I split a hash brown with it, and gave it a fair bit of my sausage patty. I wanted to share my coffee with it too but I didn't know if cats like it black. I borrowed a piece of paper and a pen from the counter to write down ideas I had for a novella, but I gave up after scribbiling a few random lines.

At about a quarter to seven, people started milling in; mostly school-kids with their moms and dads and high-school teens with P's on their cars and bikes. I noticed one Convent girl in particular, and watched as she came out of an SUV with her mother. She was really quite beautiful and looked fetching in a light blue waistcoat over her regulation pinafores of the same colour. Frankly, wearing anything over the god-awful pinafores is an improvement. Banes of the curves of feminine teenhood, I call 'em.

As the she walked in to McD's, I stood up and left for my car. I was overcame by a sudden desire to take a walk by the Malacca River.

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The Riverside Walk, just by the Stadhuys square.

Not too long ago, the river was little more than an oversized sewage drain - a funky-gunky obnoxious presence that wound through the ancient part of the city. It was so polluted that you'd think Godzilla descended from the monitor lizard population there (for some reason, the reptiles seemed to be thriving in the filth). It was hard to believe that one of the most renowned trading ports of the East in the 15th and early 16th century was based here, right over the waters of Malacca.

The tide was high this morning.
As I descended the stairs down to the Walk, I noticed small splash by the bank. It was a mudskipper, startled by my intrusion and so leapt from its perch on the shallowly submerged lower steps of the stairway.

The odd thing is, it swam right back to where it was lounging. As if it had suddenly forgotten a big, ugly bipedal monster had just tramped nearby its turf. I heard that fishes have really short memories but this is ridiculous.

I tried to photograph it and in the process, scared it away.

But it returned.

This happened a few times as I tried to get closer for a better focus (because of the pathetic zooming capability of my camera). Here's a short 10-second video of the bugger playing Homing Nemo. If you look closely, you can see it actually leaping out of the water at 00.02;


I managed to get as near as about one feet away from the mudskipper. It wouldn't flop away so long as I didn't move too quickly.

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Periophthalmodon schlosseri.

I identified it as a Giant Mudskipper (which isn't very gigantic at all considering that they only measure up to a piddling 27 cm) by the black stripe that trailed from its eyes and along its body. I thought it looked like an aquatic hamster, with its beady eyes and puffy cheeks.

The coolest thing about mudskippers, of course, is that they are amphibious - possibly the most well-adjusted air breather of the piscine world. In fact, they are so well-adjusted that they can't stay underwater indefinitely. I've always been fascinated by these awesome, freaky creatures ever since I saw them bouncing about the mudflats of the marshy seaside of Melaka Raya at low tide when I was little. Well, littler.

Another cool thing about mudskippers is their arm-like pectoral fins, complete with tiny "elbows" which they use to skip, a distinctive manner of locomotion which gave them their name. They would tense up their bodies, and with a flip of their fins, they would jerk off in a forwardly fashion (haha, jerk off). It is called crutching, for obvious reasons.

Sorry, I've always been a big animal buff ever since I could read. This was the first time I ever got so close to a mudskipper in the wild.

Oh, and I found out the reason why it kept coming back;

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With Jr. Check out the mom's dopey face.

See that little brown, teardrop-shaped sliver on the rail? That's a weally tiny mudskwipper babeh.

And there's many more darting about in the water near the hole at the side of the embankment (visible starting from 00.05 in the clip), which I suspect to be the entrance of Momma's brood burrow. Unlike most other fishes which lay gazillions of eggs and abandoning them - hoping that some at least would escape the fate of ending up as caviar and sushi garnishing - mudskippers are top-hole mothers and actually care for their fry. Since there are practically no air in the burrows, mudskipper moms would gulp mouthfuls of air and bring them home to aerate the muddy nurseries. The miniature mudskippers would usually remain near the burrow entrance (and near big Momma's protection) till they are big enough to get eaten by predators elsewhere.

After spending about half an hour watching the goggly-eyed little family, I finally decided to run along elsewhere. The deep tiredness I felt in my bones for not sleeping the whole night have disappeared, and I felt about ten years younger.

It's true after all. The secret to never growing old is to never give up the curiousity and wonderment of the child you were.

I wonder what's on Animal Planet now.

Staying seven,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Secret Base of Dr. Sun Yat Sen

"Hey, let's go ask that newspaper seller; 'Where is Sun Yat Sen's base?'"

Sze Yin, after milling about the neighbourhood for nearly an hour

The quote lost something in its translation from Cantonese: 'Cheng man Sun Zhongsan ko 'base' heong pin dou?'

The finale bit of Day 2 of the Great Penang Road Trip.

The sole guide of our sojourn on the island of Penang was a road map booklet I bought from the convenience store of the first Shell gas station I spotted after we past the toll plaza into the province of Seberang Perai, the mainland (and less popular half) of the state of Pulau Pinang. It cost a stomach-wrenching RM20, but I have to admit, it was worth every cent.

On every page, the map was dotted with these labeled yellow stars that signify the locations of notable tourist spots. It's precisely what three total Penang noobs need. After every stop, we would whip the booklet out and plan our next star, and home in on it like flies on garbage. Bad analogy, I know.

Maybe it was too much sun. Maybe there was something in our bottled water. But something like a small burst of excitement popped in our brains when we spotted one particular star;

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Our map.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base. The Dr. Sun Yat Sen? He was in Penang? He had a base here?

The decision to see his secret lair base was unanimous. Already, we had visions of a tall, imperialistic white building with flags of the Kuomintang flown from every window. A pair of fearsome Chinese stone lions would grace its large, dark-wood double-doors. Canons would be placed five feet apart on its battlements and pointed at KOMTAR. There would be gargoyles adorning the waterspouts, all carved into the likeness of creatures that are half-dragon and half-Mao Zedong...

The shortest route from Fort Cornwallis to Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base would be through Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. Once we turn into Jalan Kampung Kolam, we ought to see his base on our left. We ought to.


We drove reeeally slowly along Jalan Kampung Kolam when we got there, eyeing each and every building we passed with the hopes of seeing something which would clue us in on which building it was. A great dirty neon signboard with "Dr. Sun Yat Sen's Secret Base" emblazoned on it would be real helpful. Or maybe a cardboard cutout of Dr. Sun. Or shifty-eyed Chinese men in Zhongsan suits whispering conspiratorially to each other congregating at some nondescript doorstep (we have already given up hope on the stone lions). Anything. We just need a bloody indication!

Absolutely nothing. Zilch.

"Dr. Sun Yat Sen's secret base wor. You think it'll be so easy to find meh?" said Sze Yin.

I started scouting for tunnel entrances and scrutinising every man-hole cover we drove past. No luck there, either. So, we parked our car a block away and got on our feet. Walking several times up and down Jalan Kampung Kolam proved equally futile though. Every door in the row looked as unassuming as the next. We were hoping for something small we might have missed - maybe a plaque of some sort declaring one of the many old townhouses to be a site of heritage or something.

"I think we walked past Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base several times already-lor," said Sze Yin, laughing.

Then we realised that we were looking at the back ends of the houses.

We circled around to Lebuh Armenian excitedly. Aha! Maybe the stone lions were at the front! And the flags. And the Mao gargoyles...

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Or maybe not.

It turned out that the front of the houses were rather unremarkable as well.

We did find the Syed Alatas Mansion though;

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... which was refurbished into the Penang Islamic Museum.

According to the map, Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base should be on the same row of this mansion thingy.

There's an inordinate amount of people congregating in front of Syed Alatas Mansion at the intersection of Lebuh Armenian and Lebuh Aceh for some reason. All of them were quietly conversing amongst themselves.

"What are these people doing here?" asked Sze Yin.

"Communists," I hissed softly.

A signboard, erected in front of the Syed Alatas Museum by the city council, recounted the history of the site.

"There should be a signboard which looks exactly like this in front of Sun Yat Sen's base," I said, without even reading it. Frankly, we were all so caught up with looking for Dr. Sun's secret base, all the other tourist attractions did not interest us the least bit.

We began walking briskly down Lebuh Armenian, peering into every house in turn till we reached the end of the street. We spotted Yap Kongsi, the clan temple for Penangites with the surname Yap, also a tourist attraction of sorts - but no Sun Yat Sen's base. According to the map, we must have walked right past it. Again.

"Oh my god, think, think! If I got a secret base, where would I hide it?!" I groaned.

Next, we backtracked and reexamined the two house which we suspected to be the likeliest candidates. The first was an art gallery. Archvillains Revolutionaries like Dr. Sun Yat Sen would definitely enjoy fine art right?;

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Candidate #1

And the second was the clubhouse of the Mor Hun Club. The Huns invaded China in that Disney retelling of Mulan - and Dr. Sun Yat Sen's from China! Coincidence? I think not;

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Candidate #2

It was getting dark and the communists random civilians which loitered outside the Syed Alatas Mansions have dispersed. It didn't take us long to figure out that standing outside that two houses waiting for Dr. Sun Yat Sen to pop out or something isn't working out for us at all.

"Let's go ask someone," one of us suggested at last.

I entered an already closed restaurant and indeed, in spite of earlier wisecracks, asked someone in Mandarin where Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base is located (My command of Hokkien, the preferred dialect of Penang, begins and ends with how to say "toilet paper").

"House no. 120," was the answer I got.

"House no. 120!" I hollered excitedly to my road trip buddies as I exited the restaurant.

We then proceeded to run back up Lebuh Armenian, counting houses as we jogged breathlessly. The adrenaline was peaking a screaming high. We were actually shouting the numbers out loud as we passed them;




"116, 118!"


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Dr. Sun Yat Sen's very secret base.


After we got closer, we noticed that there really was a signboard proclaiming this humble indigo-blue shophouse to be the place we were hunting so hard for. Because the way it was angled towards the street, we didn't notice it at all during the times we walked by it! It was hidden in plain sight!

And what more, it was wedged right between no. 122 and 118 - namely, the art gallery and Mor Hun Club - that two place we suspected to be it. I bet the good doctor is having a good laugh at our expense, wherever he may be now. The evil overlords in movies and literature can learn a lot from this guy, especially when it comes to picking hideouts.

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The back of the base facing Jalan Kampung Kolam which we totally ignored.

No. 120 was the Southeast Asian chapter of Dr. Sun's little club, the Tung Meng Hooi, and the venue for the Penang Conference, held on the 13th of November, 1910. During the meeting, he proposed the launch of another uprising of a bigger scale in Guangzhou - in view of the previous failed smaller ones. However, due to the many previous flops which led to heavy financial losses and pawnage, most of his disillusioned supporters were reluctant to sacrifice more of their resources.

In desperation, the teary-eyed Dr. Sun besought them to finance the revolution one last time. He promised them that if this last uprising did not succeed, he would retire into oblivion forever.

Moved by the doctor's passion and sincerity, his Malayan comrades went "Aww, don't cry, Sunny," and donated 8000 Malayan dollars on the spot. After the Penang Conference, fund-raisers were conducted throughout the peninsula (how fund-raisers for rebellions were carried out, I have not a bloody clue), leading to the launch of the Second Guangzhou Uprising - as was initially masterminded in this small house.

This uprising sputtered and crashed too (haha) but it was supposed to be the precursor that sparked the success of the Wuchang Uprising which led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the birth of the Republic of China.

Also, the oldest Chinese newspaper in Malaysia, the Kwong Wah Jit Poh, was founded here in 1910.

There is suppose to be some sort of exhibition inside this house these days but it was already closed when we got there. But no matter - we were so flippin' happy to finally see it that we didn't care at all.

Anyway, we went here afterwards;

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Gurney Drive, a nationwide-famous esplanade.

And had dinner here;

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That famous hawker centre there.

Right after dinner, we get to watch Penang's finest waa-waaing up and down Gurney Drive warning people to bugger off due to a tsunami scare. Sumatra trembled apparently, but we didn't feel a thing. Of course, the only effect the coppers warning had was to make people (like me) stick around and wait for the impending wave of doom. I mean, we want the complete Penang experience! Not a single ripple, I am sad to report.

Thus, I conclude the story of our Penang adventure. The end.

The end for Day 2, that is. There's a heck of a lot more travelogue-ish posts for you to read. Stick around for more!

I have been to Dr. Sun Yat Sen's base,
k0k s3n w4i

Other posts in my Great Penang Road Trip series:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Georgetown and About

"I wonder if we are allowed to stay in the YMCA. Inn Shan and I aren't Christians. Sze Yin isn't even a man."

Me, right before we checked into the YMCA Hostel of Penang

We were sort of fretting, till we saw a Muslim woman manning the receptionist's counter.

Still Day 2 of the Great Penang Road Trip.

The highway north of Ipoh is a harrying stretch for about 10 kilometres after the tunnel. The road is about as straight as a politician, and mega-sized trucks kept zipping past me in that very-narrow mountainside corridor when I was concentrating hard on preventing our untimely deaths down a limestone gorge. I could almost hear those beer-bellied, chain-smoking truckers calling me "Noob!" back at me as they cut me off.

The view was awesome. I noticed that in some of those precious few seconds not spent eyeing some fourteen-wheeler flashing its headlights at me from behind. Bloody hogs.

We passed the toll at about two-o-clockish, and I am convinced that Butterworth, Penang island's neighbouring city on the mainland, is nothing more than a place for roadsigns pointing to the either the ferry terminal, or the Penang Bridge to stand. I opted for the ferry trip, in spite of initial but half-hearted protests from Inn Shan and Sze Yin. Sze Yin had a minor panic attack when I told her - while we were waiting to board the ferry - that our car will be hoisted with us in it onto the ferry using a giant crane.

Honestly, people would believe anything these days.

One of the few places in Malaysia where you can get seasick in a car.

The crossing took us less than half an hour and it was kind of novel really 'cause i have never been on a boat with my car before.

I kept thinking that there should be a big, flaming eye sitting on top of KOMTAR, for some reason.

Then, we landed in Penang. The three of us. For the very first time.

The narrow streets of Georgetown, the city of the island, are strongly reminiscent of the ones found in the crumblier side of Malacca (the "historical bit", pffft). I heard that the conversion of most of the streets to one-ways is part of the city council's plan to reduce intra-city traffic congestion. The plan's not working, I'm afraid.

We spotted something I wanted to see while we were cruising along Jalan MacAlister;

UMNO's Gentle Reminder to the Populace of Who's Really In-charge Hereabouts.

Apparently, this was designed by "a prolific Malaysian architect and writer best known for developing environmental design solutions for high-rise buildings in the tropics" (to quote his Wiki shrine article). I never gave a flying two-pence about architecture before (I called the Petronas Twin Towers Mahathir's Double Penis) but this one's special because I actually personally know the eldest offspring of said "prolific Malaysian architect and writer".

Take a good look at your Dad's work, kid. I risked life and limb (of three people, no less) when I took my hands off the wheel to snap this photo as I was driving past. I deserve a bit of gratitude here; especially since I also risked those same lives and limbs twice when I came from the other side;

I always wanted a mini tripod screwed on my car's dashboard.

People of authority always loved owning sky-scraping monuments as obnoxious symbols of their power. On Penang alone, we got two of 'em - that UMNO Tower, the ruling regime's island home base, and KOMTAR or Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak, named after Malaysia's 2nd or 3rd Prime Minister (let's face it, the two of them aren't very distinctive at all) who belonged to that same ruling party. At 65-storey high, it is Malaysia's 6th tallest building - though it did enjoy a short stint of fame as Asia's loftiest concrete prick till the Korean Life Insurance Building pawned its concrete ass;

The Tower of Dark Sorcery, KOMTAR.

Other notable authorities of absolute evhul who also boasted symbolic towers of power includes Saruman, with his Orthanc in Isengard, and Sauron, with Barad-dûr and Minas Morgul. Sauron got two 'cos he's more bad-ass. Of course, this is totally not a jibe aimed at Mahathir, no suh. Wouldn't dream of it. He got three in our capital city alone.

After lunch at a nondescript coffee shop at Jalan Penang, we headed for the Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram, an place of tourist attraction of some note standing somewhere between the aptly named Lorong Bangkok and Lorong Burma. I'd like to have a word with those blokes that named the roads in Penang.

The what?

It's pretty easy to find - It's not everyday you see a big, yellow pagoda standing in the middle of the 'urbs.

And here's the only reason why anyone who's not a devotee wants to visit this place;

Big lounging Buddha.

It's a 33-metre-long concrete Reclining Buddha (3rd largest in the world). I know it looks very plastic but it's concrete - or so I was told.

I'm a Buddhist, and I must say this;

It's real ugly.

Oh, now that I'm on the subject, I want everyone to know that Buddhists don't worship statues.

Anyway, the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple opposite of the Wat is a lot more worth the time to see (and a lot more easier to pronounce too);

Ooh, pretty.

This must be what they had in mind when they coined the word 'ornate'.

Yes, I'm precisely the sort of tourist that gets all excited over things like this and take a million pictures of it from every possible angle. Just don't expect to see me in Bermudas, a straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt.

I don't get why the Wat is more popular, especially since this temple is founded almost half a century earlier. I can't believe that a giant concrete effigy of Sid Gautama lying down trumped this;

In the main shrine hall.

The Main Shrine Hall is adorned with an pleasant mix of wood and gold, shaped and carved into amazingly intricate designs. The way those carvings were hung over the polished, white marble floor reminded me of curtains (really, really starched curtains). There's a genuine feeling of serenity and peace in here, as opposed to the more hodgepodge aesthetics in that temple across the street.

Hey, just my opinion.

Next up on our list was Fort Cornwallis, and the Victoria Memorial Clock Tower. The ancients have been so considerate in building them so close together. Saved us from driving around so much.

The Victoria Memorial Clock Tower.

The 60-feet clock tower was donated by some rich bloke called Cheah Chen Eok in 1987 as a gift to Queen Victoria to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of her reign. Why anyone would celebrate someone's protracted colonial rule over their heads is beyond me. Ironically, before the tower was completed in 1902, Queen Vic went the way of the pharaohs and bit the royal dust. Though, I got a feeling that she probably didn't even know a clock tower was being erected in her honor on some piddling island in the East Indies anyway.

I heard that the clock tower tilts a litte due to some bombing incident at the nearby King Edward's Place. Can't say I notice.

Fort Cornwallis.

One of the surprises I got there was my discovery that an admission fee was required before I could enter the fort.

I mean, the even the A Famosa in Malacca ("one of the oldest surviving European architectural remains in Asia") is completely open to the public! And Fort Cornwallis is way out of the A Famosa's class. About 200 years short. How dare they charge me for entry!

Anyway, the diamond-shaped fort was built by this bloke;

Sir Francis Light, the founder of the British colony of Penang. Morons not included.

And his illegitimate son, Colonel William Light founded Adelaide in Australia. Here's a picture of the bastard;

Light father, Light son (OMG, kill me now! I just made the lamest joke in my life!)

The picture's kept in one of the fort's prison cells or provision storehouse (you can't really tell the difference) though they were converted into museum booths full of boring stuff that requires reading. They were air-conditioned, however. Prisoners those days sure had it easy, eh?

No - I don't care, the A/C still didn't justify charging for entrance.

Upon closer inspection of the picture;

Cameltoe! Cameltoe!

Colonel William Light has cameltoe! I must remark that he does look rather gender-confused. Check out his rosy cheeks! He's got a blush an eighteen-year-old Southern belle would envy!

And these are the wild horses we were warned about that were left loose on the grounds;


I don't know. I felt really disappointed when I saw them. Wild my ass.

Probably the coolest thing I saw in the whole place was this, the Seri Rambai Cannon;

The almighty voodoo gun.

This canon was initially presented to the Sultan of Johor by the Dutch (yep, Malaysia was once owned by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Brits and the Japanese; making us one of the most pawned countries in the world). Then is was given to the Acheen and installed at Kuala Selangor before it was finally seized by the purloining Englishmen and planted right here in Fort Cornwallis in 1871. Beats me why they wanna move such a heavy metal tube around so much. It seems so pointless to me.

There's a local superstition that if barren women put flowers into its barrel with an offering of a special prayer, the canon would help them conceive. It kinda made sense to me though. The bigger the gun, the better the chance.

Only, it'd be incredibly embarrassing to be caught stuffing daisies into the canon. People might point and laugh and go "Haha, infertile!" when you were doing it. I dunno about you, but that would certainly put me out of the mood for sex.

A view of the sea, from the most northeast corner of the island, where Fort Cornwallis is.

By the time we left, it was nigh 6 pm. We chose that time to embark on a quest for a rather obscure tourist attraction of Georgetown - only, we never anticipated just how "obscure" it was. Remember how travel shows are always proclaiming something or other to be some place's 'best kept secret', though it almost always aren't? Well, I think I finally found one that really deserved to be called that.

More in the next post, readers.

Off a-questin',
k0k s3n w4i

Other posts in my Great Penang Road Trip series:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sam Poh Tong and Other Holes

"Other than Sam Poh Tong, Ipoh got nothing worth seeing-la."

Yee Lin's Dad

"Ipoh is a retirement city."

Inn Shan's Uncle who gave us board and room.

Accounts of just how sleepy Ipoh is from two of its natives.

Day 2 of the Great Penang Road Trip.

Day 2 started at about 7 am and we drove to the Old Town district to rendezvous with Road Trip Buddy #2; Sze Yin, Yee Lin (who was supposed to be Road Trip Buddy #4 but had already went to Penang with her Mom), and Yee Lin's Mom and Dad at what is purported to be the best dim sum shop the city of Ipoh can offer. It's called Foh San, if my memory serves - and it's only a few rows away from Lou Wong.

The goodies did not disappoint, of course, but I was still stuffed from the steamboat buffet that Inn Shan's uncle treated us to yesterday night, so I didn't manage to feed my face half as much as I would like to. But between Inn Shan and I, we were still able to scoff a tidy bit.

Yee Lin's Dad (magnanimous Ipoh man #2) picked the bill.

That sealed it; besides that one occasion when I stopped for petrol, we did not spend a single cent in Ipoh either in lodging, food or miscellaneous etceteras. Now, if we could somehow get in touch with some of our batchmates in Penang....

Straight after breakfast, we headed for the only tourist attraction of Ipoh (besides the hot girls and nga choy kai, of course); Sam Poh Tong, and the nearby limestone cave temples.

The first one we entered (name totally forgotten) had a lot of concrete sculptures in its courtyard.

Of course, I never knew that Pegasus was part of the ancient Chinese myths;

day2 - 01
An ersatz Bellerophon with the equine abomination that would probably spark an invasion on Ipoh by the Greeks once they found out about it.

... and I didn't know merpeople were either;

day2 - 03
Poor fish-people. Forced into panhandling.

But the piece de resistance of absurdity gotta be this;

day2 - 02

Let me introduce you to Yuet Lou (literally Moon Elder, or something close enough - would someone Chinese-schooled help me out here?). His job is to keep tab of all the couples in the world, and those destined to end up together. Aside the dull registrar duties, he also ties up lovers (or would-be lovers) with a red-string, thus securing their lives together. He must have botched those he tied on me. They kept getting tangled around my feet and face-planting me on the floor.

Last I checked, he don't tote around a huge heart-shaped box. I'm pretty sure this is blasphemy of the highest order.

Then we moseyed along to the next temple. I think it was called Nam Thean Tong (Blue Sky Cave?)

Apparently, fishing and swimming in temple courtyard ponds are done rather regularly;

day2 - 04
I just discovered what people in Ipoh do in their free time.

Whilst I was strolling about, a monkey bounded right across my path. Here's the bounding bounder in action;

day2 - 05

Then a whole troop of 'em began running past us as if we weren't there at all. The girls were sheltering in a nearby pavillion, freaked out of their wits. That's not something ol' fearless Kok does, of course - no sirree. I just stood there with my shit scared clear out of my colons and observed the local wildlife with the calm and objective interest of a man of science.

day2 - 07
Retirement Tarzan

The apes somehow saw this man coming and homed right at him.

Beats donating to the temple for the goodwill of the gods, if you ask me.

day2 - 06
A monkey with what appeared to be the gory remains of a starfruit.

Our last stop is the famed Sam Poh Tong (Three Treasure Cave?) Temple;

day2 - 08
Ye Olde Front Doorway.

To disguise the fact that this post is just boring travelogue and a thinly-veiled excuse to show you my vacation pictures, I shall comment a little on the history of this place, and why it is so darn popular;

The cave was discovered in 1912. It won an award for having the best landscaped ornamental garden in Malaysia in 1993. I has a pond full of tortoises in the back.

Err, that's about it.

I think people come here because it's OMGCOOL to have a temple in a limestone cave. And probably also for the tortoises (I know that was my motivation).

Presenting the best landscaped garden of '93;

day2 - 14

And here's another view from somewhere higher up. The rest didn't want to climb up with me. How unadventurous;

day2 - 12

Here's a short video clip of the fish pond where the fish kept swirling round and round in the water for no obvious reasons;

Maybe they are waiting for me to fall in. Creepy pisceans.

There's a snippet of a conversation between Yee Lin and I in it if you listen carefully. I have no idea what I mumbled at the very end of it. It sounded like a bad word but it isn't. Really. Trust me.

day2 - 09
The inner sanctum.

Via a quiet tunnel-way from the main altar hall, we accessed the inner courtyard, technically in the middle of the limestone hill complex.

It's where they keep the tortoises;

day2 - 10
Holy turtles.

I was the first in the tortoise yard because the rest were still performing their religious duties of offering incenses and genuflecting to the entire Chinese pantheon. I chalk no where near that level of piety, of course. I'm playing the tourist this trip. Not the pilgrim.

And while I was alone, I saw two monster-sized hard-shelled leviathan breaking the surface for a breath of air - and before I could whip out my camera and go all paparazzi-hound on the pair, they disappeared to the bottom of the murk again.

It was good luck, according to Yee Lin, to spot the huge ones.

Only, there was suppose to be only one huge-ass tortoise - not two.


day2 - 11

Since the cool temple hall thing in the back wasn't open, we contented ourselves by taking pictures in the courtyard. Yee Lin said that there are way more tortoise ponds inside. What a bummer.

It's suppose to bring good luck, according to Chinese traditions, to release tortoises we find (as opposed to - I don't know - eating them?) back into the wild. I think the ancients figured that releasing them into a temple must be doubly lucky or something. We orients are a superstitious lot.

day2 - 13

We left Ipoh before noontime after dropping Yee Lin off at her house, and headed for Penang!

I plan to write more in this post actually but my bladder's killing me. Gotta leave Starbucks for the loo (now I know why there aren't toilets in Starbucks outlets). I ran out of dial-up internet credits so I can't update from home. Check back in a day or two, okay?

Desperate for bladder relief,
k0k s3

Other posts of my Great Penang Road Trip series:

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Very Best of Malacca and Ipoh

"I heard Ipoh girls are very pretty."

Inn Shan

"Ipoh girls collectively, or just one of them?"


It’s an inside joke – you wouldn’t understand.

Day 1 of the Great Penang Road Trip.

It started with breakfast, possibly the best sort you can get in this side of the world; Malacca’s Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls. This time around, I brought Road Trip Mate #1, Inn Shan, to the most well known shop of the state – Hoe Kee. I was told it appeared numerous times on various television programs. It’s the one with a cardboard cut-out of some Chinese TV presenter bloke at the front of the shop;

Here's a picture of one third of the shop. Some SUV was blocking the other two thirds. Bloody SUV owners think they own the town.

And since Inn Shan had already tried The Other Shop

If anything, Hoe Kee’s proprietors are more business savvy, having refurbished the premises to something akin to an old-fashioned Chinese teahouse (yes, yes, I realise that I am talking as if I actually know how old-fashioned Chinese teahouses ought to look like);

Quaint, ain't it?

I can almost hear irritating Japanese girls in high-pitched voices going "kawaii ne!" at this.

Just so you know, I'll beat anyone to death with a stool if they so much utter the phrases "kawaii ne!" or "oiishi!" or some similar skin-crawling Japanese phrases within 10 feet of me. Consider yourself warned.

We were the first customer. It pays to know all the off-peak hours in most of the famous restaurants in Malacca.

Rumor has it that they did their renovations according to the directions in “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Building a Tourist Trap” – just like the Famosa Chicken Rice Balls franchises. But unlike the Famosa Chicken Rice Balls outlets, Hoe Kee’s don’t serve turds to their customers.

Far from it actually;

I'm hearing that annoying "kawaii ne" in my mind again.

Bathed in soy sauce and sesame oil.

It a rather pointless toss between Hoe Kee and Chung Wah because both shops would still blow your epicurean mind if you are uninitiated to the taste of the crumbly, glutinous, delectable goodies. One might conclude, of course, from the picture that the rice balls do seem a tad densely packed, but they sort of melt in your mouth once you pop one in. Maybe that’s why only two shops managed (by most Malaccans’ standard) to serve what we termed as the "genuine article" *sticks on a monocle and takes a puff from a pipe*. The other shops make rice balls that are either too hard or too tasteless.

We guzzled down a 20 rice balls plate between us with the customary "pak cham kai" (literally meaning “white chop chicken”) and had another 15 rice balls to go for Sze Yin – Road Trip Mate #2 – and her family.

The drive up to SS17 of Subang Jaya was unremarkable excepting that instant I missed the Subang Jaya exit and had to make my way there from the Sungai Besi highway. The thing that really irked me most about driving in KL is not the jams (incredibly enough) but the tacky smugness of our higher-ups which think that putting a toll plaza wherever one can be placed is okay. I could almost imagine it (and by ‘it’, I meant our beloved government) rubbing its hand in glee, abacus clacking every time I smack my head on the steering wheel after realising I’ve been shepherded to another toll plaza. The point of highways is to reduce travelling time wasn’t it? Considering the amount of toll stops I made, the only real difference between travelling through these "shortcuts" and the regular free roads is that I feel like I’ve been raped by pirates traversing the former. 'Nuff rantin'.

We reached Sze Yin’s place at about noontime, and left about an hour later after she finished Chicken Rice Balls we brought for her.

I realise that one of the most pleasant drives in Malaysia is that stretch of the North-South Highway near Ipoh where numerous picturesque limestone hills can be seen flanking the road. I wished I could have stopped and took pictures of them but pulling over in a highway is a Darwin Award worthy act. What a bloody waste.

We arrived in Ipoh at about teatime and the city, I have to say, is awesome. No matter which direction I was heading to, there were always pretty hills in the distant – like the whole place is surrounded by them. We arrived at Inn Shan’s uncle’s place in Silibin without a hitch. Inn Shan’s uncle and aunt is a pleasant couple, and I liked them on the good to go.

Of course, the single thing on my mind when I was in Ipoh was their very well-known "nga choy kai" ("bean sprouts chicken", literally). Inn Shan’s uncle brought us to the Old Town area of the city for that;

Old Town indeed.

And here’s one of the best shops for "nga choy kai", I was told;

A no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point signboard, isn't it?

I mean, you definitely have something to show for if you’re cocky enough to plaster your shop’s wall with a massive signboard proclaiming that you’re the "Most Famous in Town";

Veteran girl-watchers would tell you that girl watching is all about three things...

... "Location, location, and Ipoh".

Business starts at 5.30 pm and in less then a quarter of an hour, there wasn’t a single table empty. Yee Lin, our Ipohan/Ipohite/Ipohnoid batchmate from Manipal joined us (no, I don’t have a picture of her – I am not a big fan of taking pictures of people).

I’m more of an inanimate objects sort of person;

The most incredibly juicy and satisfying bean sprouts ever.

The best steam chicken I've ever eaten in my life.

And the Ipoh "Hor Fun"

I had expectations.

But Ipoh blown them out into orbit, then out of from orbit and into the outer cosmos.

They were bloody, fucking good!

Almost *cough* as good as Malacca's Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls though I'll concede that Ipoh's chicken is waaay better (the chickens in Malacca were never something we shout about anyway *snobbish snort*). Now I know how Ipoh grow their hot chicks - with the juicy goodness of bean sprouts so plump they make you go into an ecstatic trance, and the smoothest, most scrumptious steamed chicken in the world.

Yee Lin told us that there's actually a shop that serves better "nga choy kai" but it only opens twice or thrice a month, according to the shop-owner's whims.

My reaction was; "There's better?!"

And if that bloke can survive by just opening for business a couple of times a month, he must be mind-'sploding, karmic-bliss, rapturous, brain-fucking AWESOME. I got to look him up.

That brief meal at Lou Wong's shop was on Inn Shan's uncle, an impossibly magnanimous man who also treated us to dinner at a famous steamboat buffet chain in Ipoh called MP (or something very much like that) - on top of providing free lodging for Inn Shan and I in his home. Sze Yin bunked at Yee Lin's place.

End of Day One. Jealous?

First time in Ipoh,
k0k s3n w4i

Other posts in of my Great Penang Road Trip:

1 Teluk Intan is known as "Ngon-Sun" (in Cantonese) and "Ansun" (in Mandarin) by most Chinese people in Malaysia – evocative of the town’s colonial name of Teluk Anson.