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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

And so the curtains close...

Wow. Two whole years on Blog*Spot. It's been a pleasure.

Before you go grabbing my collar all teary and screaming, let me assure you: no, I'm not quitting blogging. Yeah well, I can't blame you for thinking the worst since I seem to have stopped updating completely. (No, I'm not dead either.) It's just that I've been too preoccupied with life — yes I have one, isn't that damn awful? The semester exams (in March) are rapidly approaching; I had to get my PC monitor fixed (yeah, she too broke down), which was admittedly the main cause of the downtime; and I'm prepping up my new blog domain. Oops, secret's out.

Okay, here's the shit going on: I'm starting a new weblog. Early this year, Tim Yang invited me to set up home at a rather "exclusive" free blog host he just started, — for veteran and/or prolific *I smugly raise an eyebrow* but cash-strapped bloggers currently on ad-supported/limited hosting services. (That is so me. I'm convinced that I was the inspiration for this initiative.) Isn't this incredible? I've always wanted to have my own domain; then out of the blue some stranger comes up and offers one on a silver platter. I felt like I won something.

At this point I simply cannot hold in how much I appreciate Tim Yang's generosity. Done a great service to mankind, in my book — how about that? I could heap on enough praise to kill a dog, but perhaps it will be worth more if I supplement some background and links to go, because I think this is relevant to bigger topics like "philanthropy in the blogging community" and maybe even "the state of the Malaysian Blogosphere" (No really, I'm so dead serious). I'll post on this in the new blog.

(In return, at least, I ask that Tim work on improving the service; there's plenty room for it.)

My writing has evolved in spades over the months and years. I was, among more apparent things, searching for my blogging voice. Having come this far I should be able to say that I got myself a strong one now, but maybe this is something that I can't know on my own, balls to bones; like knowing that I'm in love, or that I'm the One. Perhaps this subjective quality is up to the judgement of readers, yes?

I wish to embrace this opportunity to start afresh. And so I officially close this chapter of my ongoing blogging pursuit.

Now, at the moment the new blog is a patchy little limp biscuit, so though I'm a bit reluctant to (and I can't tell if you are, too), I'm going to send you over there anyway.

(NOTE: The hiatus was sudden, I know, but I will still need to extend it until the end of March to attend to exam fever. Can't give blogging a bad name for murdering my grades, can I?)

| 2/17/2004 09:57:00 PM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Hail! The PC is back from the dead dumps

My PC has returned! My powers are restored! *MANIACAL LAUGHTER* Writing, blogging, killing time will be on full throttle once more.

Wait, no. There is one power unaccounted for, one of my most cherished: the ability to banish stress on a whim.

See, the PC I finally have on my desk now (looks good) — having survived the successive rigors of damage and repair — is not the same as it was before, and never will be again. The components that blew out were the motherboard, which was serviced (and feels so obviously like a completely different brand), and the GeForce2 MX graphics card (archaic and motheaten, I know), which was not. Without a graphics card, we come to the tragic consequence: I can no longer play graphics-intensive, big-title games. My pill. My therapy. A good gaming session has always made the world easier to face again.

Imagine my heartsick despondence, probably verging of depression (no, I'm exaggerating), when it all began — typical effect of parting a geek from his computer. But it was at this stage in my sorry-ass life when I realized how much of an adaptive optimist I really am... which is quite consoling. With the benefit of hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise.

I recognized the overdue opportunity to concentrate on my studies. Easier said than done, naturally (though there was a time when this guy, who's allergic to studying, was once a kid who got perfect grades without even trying). Still, every little favorable circumstance was worth every little notch of improvement; the payoff — whatever its size could've been — was pathetically certain. I mean: of course my fucking grades will improve if I lay off those games!

To circumvent all those extra hours of doing nothing, I've also been hanging out in friends' rooms for mindless chitchat and banter focusing on my other passion: reading. (Reading stuff I'd rather read, I mean.) Well, I don't buy books; a poverty-stricken student like me can't afford them. (Who else thinks books are expensive?) Instead I just hang out at bookstores for long periods devouring stuff from cover to cover. Mostly non-fiction, but will sample novels now and then.

Well, I did start buying magazines. At press time, I can see RM500 worth of several accumulated over time on the shelf. KLue, PC Magazine, the occasional Time and Newseek, a few old National Geographic and Wired issues, Loaded (I wholeheartedly confess) and PC Gamer for an early short stint, and even Men's Health. Yep. After being a regular on my roommate's stack of lady mag CLEO, I found Men's Health to be way more useful and a hell lot funnier — no surprise there (Last I checked inside my pants, the correlation was evident). But apart from the nutrition education, style assistance and the infinitely handy sex tips, it's also feeding this ridiculous urge to lift heavy objects repetitively. A bit worrying...

Thank goodness local computer zines are cheap and plentiful; I have so many of them. They will help me in deciding how my next dream PC will be like (a kickass graphics card is being considered!), which I'm planning to purchase this year. I really need to save up. Or get a job soon.

Aha! I just caught myself creating an evil little loop. Once I get back to gamer's paradise with a new PC, I'd probably be too stoned to continue the good habit of buying the magazines that inspired the purchase in the first place. Until eventually, something breaks down again.

| 1/04/2004 08:14:00 PM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Monday, December 29, 2003

Merry Belated Christmas

Just like last year, singing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" would technically make me a fibber.

Unlike last year though, I didn't join in any carolling activities.

Hell (and so be it), I didn't go to church either. Not that I was lazy; just that the bus from MidValley MegaMall incidentally took too damn long for me to be on time for anything that Christmas Eve. (And as for Morning Mass on Christmas Day... well, I never liked Mass on mornings.) I was glad, at least, that I didn't have to put up with the inconveniences of a jam-packed church this time around.

And really, Christmas shouldn't be such a big deal. See, I'm one of those long-sobered, happily-grown-out-of-innocence kids who can now be smug about the realities of Christmas: it started as a really cool holiday meant to replace an ancient pagan one. Winter Solstice Day or something. Doesn't sound very interesting, does it? Go figure. (Point: it's not truly Jesus' birthday.)

Plopped on top of that is the heavy commercialism capitalizing on the essential gift-giving tradition.

And on top of that are the accumulated superficial traditions, which include decorated pine trees (of Scandinavian kampong origins) and the Santa bullshit (said to have been twisted out of the legend of a saint called Nick by some toy store long ago... or not). Ironically, Santa is a menace to what Christmas is really about.

This is all, of course, coming from someone who wasn't home for the holidays nor got any presents.

| 12/29/2003 05:24:00 AM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Christmas Calling

What's Christmas without the Christmas decor? I was already resigned to a non-festive holiday when I delightfully found bells-and-holly on the room door, courtesy of my roommate. He even has a bonsai-sized faux Christmas tree on his table, baubles and all. Great for the mood, even if a little bit.

And what's Christmas without Christmas songs? Unfortunately the roomie provided that too. Now I don't mean to be snide about his taste in music (he's mostly into Brintey Spears and Mariah Carey, by the way), but really. Slow country music plus mediocre vocals. Where in hell did he find that? But I'm not one to question other people's tastes; especially a roommate's. Let it be, even if he — sigh — sleeps with that music on.

So bothered was I with the lack of solid good holiday tunes that I went out to shell out money for some CDs. Two, in fact. I must be mad, splurging like that with a wallet as fat as a hair follicle.

The first one is Michael Buble's self-titled Christmas Limited Edition. You can't go wrong with jazz when it comes to Christmas tunes. I was only after the supplementary CD which contained just five Christmas covers. How's that for bothered? I'm satisfied with the done deal, nonetheless. My favorite song on it is My Grown-up Christmas List. It's one of those Christmas songs that you hardly ever hear. (The first and last time I heard it was when I sang it in a Christmas concert thingy choir three years ago.)

The other one is Christmas Calling, a compilation listing names like Travis, Macy Gray, Tenacious D and Sum 41. Some of the songs are covers, such as Fuel's (remember Hemorrhage?) weirdly angsty-sounding We Three Kings. My favorite track is the unlikely Frosty The Snowman, given fresh breath by Fiona Apple.

| 12/23/2003 11:21:00 PM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Rock The World IV: reporting from the front lines

Last Saturday still feels like yesterday. Attended a RTW concert for the first time since I started making a bed in KL.

I provided the info, Don arranged our outing, and his friend/drummer-in-his-punk-band Pat had a car. Pat also roped in Chung, his friend's kid brother, who was to be under his watch that day. For the four of us this was our first RTW jaunt, and happily, things went smoothly. Everything we had planned was accomplished: found the car park, bought tickets early on d-day, be the first ones in, got our free t-shirts, and be right up front (doing perfect justice for our cameras at the ready). Everything, and then some...

Photographer's fortune blew us a kiss, long before the show began. We managed a fairly close-up shot of guitarist Sarah of The Official backstage, right after the band soundchecked. Best yet, after Butterfingers had their turn (a cool spoiler of what they were going to perform later), we caught up with Loque in the car park — alone! — and, being shameless starstruck groupies, snapped pictures of him paired with each of us. Just us! No other civilians in sight! Loque and I, side by side... Now this "village champion" has something to show the guys back home!

Back to the mosh pit. I'd just like to note that while we were waiting for the show to start, I caught a fine looking girl, about ten paces away, checking me out. And she kept on, with pretend apathy. (Her appearing to have a date with her is an aside.) I played along, trading quick glances. Was it my cool shirt, or the giant invisible zit on my eye?

Okay. Back to business, I swear.

Well, RTW4's line-up of acts wasn't as great as last year's. And was the clowny emcee Harun a necessary evil? (I remember him from the RTW3 video-CD. Just as brain-damaging to watch then.) The afro — apparently part of his standup act — just didn't belong.

Things got to a good start at about 4PM with a few new bands; most memorably One Buck Short, which I ticked on my like-list. The expressive frontman was a fabulous live-performer and proved to be a charismatically superior fat-fun-guy to Harun.

Then Qings And Kueens kame came up. Didn't make a too good impression for some: bumping into mikestands, geekiness that would make Blur and Weezer cringe, frontman taking pictures of the crowd like a tourist. At least their hit We're Gonna Rock You was an awesome crowd pleaser.

Meanwhile, the usual squashing and bodybanging got wilder. Conforming to the laws of fluid mechanics, we in the front were naturally getting a lot of it from the bulk behind us. It was becoming really, really infuriating; mark my words. The front barricades (chicken-coop fence, more like) were bending dangerously forward. Security helped to force them back up, and we did our part by ferociously pushing back the imbeciles behind us, like good citizens.

Everything up till then was just a warm up for what was to come next: the hugely popular OAG, which started off with their hit classic, 60's TV. Would you believe the energy being generated.

By then — before OAG could ever finish the song — something happened, as most of you who were there not fondly remember. Thanks to the insane pushing (those kids were practically hurling themselves) and the hopeless excuse of a barricade, the fence in centre front yielded and toppled, along with a ton of human beings. Idiots. We were just a little left to the burst point; a close call. I didn't get flattened, thank goodness for that. Managed to break my near-falls with my hands, as well as the bodies of the already fallen. Poor souls.

Ah well. Once in a while, eh?

Alerts sounded. RTW4 was halted (for an hour). Barricades were to be replaced. Jason Lo was furious. Harun was frantic for control. Radhi was secretly grinning with pride. The evening sky decided to rub some drizzle in. The crowd was let out, to snack, piss, pray, whatever. To wait. Everyone was everywhere, loitering. Tired and frustrated and beaten up.

We settled under a tree somewhere in a (where else but the ubiquitous) car park(s). A while later, a cool chick with her guy companion passed by, and as she did, taking advantage of my lethargic obliviousness as I moped like The Thinker Statue, she made one last not-discreet-enough eyeball at me. I saw that. Yup, the same girl. She was so flippin' obvious.

(Don suggested she was ready to hump someone. An encouraging thought.)

By the time night fell, there was some sign which I wasn't aware of, that had the masses creeping back into the pit. I wondered why, when... Good grief, the old fence had not even been removed! Hell, the substitute hadn't even arrived yet!

You could hear more angry, jaded complaining all around. Once again, it was the task of the emcee to conjure some crowd control.

Let me just say that perhaps flashy Harun wasn't the right man for the job. He likes to call attention to himself — something that doesn't seem to go well with some of the most cynical urban youth on this side of the planet. The emcee should connect with the minds of folks who would pay for this sort of thing; it's a rock show, not the MTV Asia Awards. Know what? I'd prefer the plainest, straightest-talking, no-frills guy they have up there in the comic-wannabe's place. No, wait — a female emcee; now that would definitely help. Have me work for you, Lo, you need ideas like these.

Now that I recall it... Throughout the show, Harun was making the crowd do all sorts of shit for him; like whenever he announces a band we go "Are they any good?"; doing the Scouts' clap-cheer (no kidding); and for the love of butter, sing "If you're happy and you know it shout ROCK THE WORLD!" Right. Treat us like kindergarteners. No wonder we're rebellious. The worst thing you could deny rock concertgoers — even if you may not think it's deserved — is respect. (Well, some concertgoers didn't have the heart to deny the emcee some undeserved respect, therefore they went along anyway. So we're not that bad...)

Lo probably also figured Harun was pretty shitty when he took matters into his own hands by grabbing the mike. With an I-mean-business tone, he managed the kind of crowd control needed: "Everyone take ten steps back and no one dare move an ass while we replace the damn barricades. Y'all are wonderful."

Close to an additional hour later, the new barricades (with right-angle floors, and can't fall over, and were we too cheap to have this in the first place?) were installed, the break was finally over, and the show resumed.

OAG went straight to improving tempers, performing the anthem that led the not-too-recent Malay urban music revolution, Slumber, and a couple of new songs off their latest album. Leaping, kicking Radhi displayed showmanship worthy of the trademark brand of rock he can call his own.

Subculture appeared, to punks' delight. Funny how when Harun teased: "Sub...?" only Pat yelled the answer after seeing how everyone else around appeared clueless (or indifferent). They're underground old-timers in the scene, after all. Their set included a Blink-182 cover (naturally well responded to), and an old radio hit of theirs, Turn Around. It's been an age since I last heard that one. I recall it as the only song I truly pogo-ed to that day, along with the entire pit.

I'll have you know that a lot of bodysurfing has been going on since the afternoon. If they hovered just over where they were, it'd be fine. But no, these folks, initially from the back, had to surf all the way to the front and drop over the barricades, after which security would routinely send them off back into the pit with a slap on the butt. (Alright, there were no slaps on the butts.) It's irritating when bodies brush, no, drag over your head over and over again; but then there's the mini satisfaction of watching them gracelessly crumple to the ground...

Love Me Butch was the nu-metal act with a wow factor in the form of the frontman's incredible scream-pipes. That voice is golden, swinging effortlessly from expertly melodic to utter thunder and back; Chester of Linkin Park is a safe equivalent (not the closest, but one that most people can acknowledge). Pat was impressed for the first time, he says. New songs, but no hit-that-made-them-big The Protector despite requests.

The new sound of Prana is funk with a surprise splash of reggae. Plus, on stage for a change was a fire-twirler, the frontman's twitchy dance and an authentic looking Jamaican guest rapper. This band is cool. Not in consideration is the notion that they're so good-looking, they model. Well uh, I know that at least one of them did a junk food commercial.

SingleTrackMind had me wondering what's so great about this one-man-band. I mean, there's a TV ad for the debut album running; music videos as well, I presume. But I don't think I've heard or noticed anything from him before; somehow STM has escaped my radar. Well, here was my chance to take a listen. From looks alone, he seems established, surrounded by professional players and with the black glam rock garb going on. As for substance... sounds uninspired. Nothing even slightly catchy. Looks can be deceiving; I thought the music was rather andante for a getup like that. To be fair, I was listening very closely. Man, even the lyrics were bland.

The great J-Lo himself started up with a new(!) song (a punky one at that), and then a past hit Driving. Again? Didn't he perform that last year? Whatever. He also treated the masses to his old hit debut single, Evening News. Singalong heaven.

The Official is a veteran oi punk act that's pretty obscure to most people, but clearly, this was Chung's special, favorite band. He was jumping with joy to every riff, conveniently right up front. (Lucky guy always had Pat making sure he got to stand at the barricades.) Others around him — seeing this kid so blissfully into this unfamiliar band — jumped right along too, not to be outdone. What a funny sight. Anyway we were happy for Chung.

Okay I've nothing against bodysurfing, but the surfers by this time were getting repetitive, continuously riding forward and falling off the front (and making victory signs). Like a fricking conveyor belt. I suppose those at the back were doing it for thrills. Well, like Linelanders, those one-dimensional creatures just couldn't see what was past the second dimension — what lay ahead. Police officers. Now the police had been very cool, but the "conveyor belt" was understandably becoming an irksome natural cycle. So they started detaining the "drop-offs," one after another. Second-offenders, even. It was a welcome distraction for those in front: doomed morons to stare at. Even when Harun warned the crowd about it, the oblivious just didn't get that they were surfing into a frying pan. (And that's how bodysurfing got banned at RTW. Tsk tsk.)

We retired for awhile in the middle of Pop Shuvit. Meeting arse to the ground (we never once gave up our spots), I then saw many other groggy burnouts sitting it out as well, hidden under the musty canopy of standers. I could also see some at the back who were still hard at work, headbanging dilligently.

It may be the lack of nutrition the entire day that got me feeling a little dizzy — I began to ache and drown in the sheer might of the sound system, by virtue of extreme proximity to the humongous front speakers. My ears were ringing.

Harun was getting annoying, telling everyone to wake up and stuff. Well whadyawant us to do, mosh more? The great emergency break earlier had zapped the spirits out of many. And not everyone's really impressed that we were live on TV, as he often reminded. (Especially since he had joked to psych kids out about their parents catching them being somewhere they weren't supposed to, holding hands with someone they shouldn't. Et cetera.)

Nu-metal band Estranged came and passed. I only remember it because the frontman was calling out for fellow Sabahans at the end of their set. (No known response. We didn't stand up either.) Oh? A band from KK? At RTW? I had no idea. I may have heard of them once, but... nope, don't know them. Neither does Don, who would know the Sabahan West Coast underground scene even better than I. They must've played at proms and hotels or something. An estranged mystery.

We got up for the next band. Disagree, the resident Pearl Jam, changed the pace with some mellower rock, giving moshers a chance to relax awhile. There was that song, Crumbs — presently making its rounds on radio — with the saxophone solo. A shiny tube made the gig. Nice.

Exists got booed as soon as they were introduced. Of course a few other bands got some occasionally, but this time the pit was downright repulsive. I can understand why: RTW celebrates the local urban music scene; Exists is the odd one out in the line-up, the only act without "urban" roots. They were in the local mainstream, of dinosaur Malay rock/pop from birth. While urban acts usually had characteristic indie beginnings, Exists was borne of a major record label, with professionals supplying material and enjoying easy media access. While they may be the one Malay band that wisely caught on to the local alternative/urban wave of the late-90s, they seem to remain ill-known, for one, their uber-sappy hit rock ballad of yesteryear, Ibu. Perhaps even the fact that they don't do or didn't start out in English (unlike virtually all bona-fide urban acts) makes them less received by the diverse "urban" crowd.

Exists performed some songs. Some of the crowd threw stuff at them. A particularly large, empty plastic bottle flew onto the stage, missing a band member by a few. Question: how would you have responded as the frontman? Me, I'd keep my cool and not let shit like that bother me. Other bands had taken their own share of hecklers' missiles pretty nonchalantly. Now let me tell you what he did: He picked the bottle up disapprovingly and said something to the effect of "This... unacceptable!" He was obviously peeved; you could think the guy, so used to the pampering and acclaim from the Malay pop industry, could not handle rejection. He then solemnly blurted (to roughly translate): "We'll show you that we too can entertain you!" after which the band churned out some really hard riffs for their following song. Please, don't try to prove yourselves, it's embarrassing. The dramaqueeny display was immature; besides, how can one enjoy the music, no matter how good, with such resentment in the air?

For what it's worth, Exists makes for good pop-rock in league with OAG and Flop Poppy, the two pioneer crossover Malay urban bands. Besides, they show sophistication in their lyrics; why, I think they're better lyricists than SingleTrackMind (in English). They seem to be among the few Malay acts who can deftly use words like "ironi" and "konklusi" and "frustrasi" and such. Fine, sounds urban enough to me.

Finally! the band everyone was waiting for: Butterfingers, minus frontman Emmett (he was abroad) and with guitarist Loque taking over the vocals. The urban scene's most esteemed heavyweights served us large course meals — long, extended renditions of some tracks off Malayneum, helping them clock in over half an hour onstage. Some may have cried boredom, but for me... delicious, just short of mesmerizing (oh how I hung in there). Not to let us down, they also performed some of their best known rock tunes, Vio Pipe and the last jumpalong of the night, The Chemistry (Between Us). One memorable part of the set was their rehash of an old Malay folk song (which I think will be on the new album), with clever lyrics that had people paying full, silent attention (that, or they were zombified from fatigue). Eerily, part of it seemed to have a message for the crowd itself — I don't recall the words but I'll rephrase in English anyway:

Together, you are daring
Alone, you are a coward
Just like everyone else

Whoah. No one was expecting mindjobs. The appreciative and smitten applauded.

RTW4 ended at around 1AM when Butterfingers stepped down and the emcee stepped up to deliver a little epilogue. The mere sight of Harun prompted the crowd to disperse.

Looking at how everyone was plain quick to leave the flailing fat guy high and dry, you could sense the atmosphere of disappointment. The main and immediate gripe was that for an act appointed to grandly close a RTW concert, Butterfingers this time had been too mellow. There might have even been some who felt cheated by Emmett's absence. Well for me, I think I got my RM20's worth (but also still think I would've got more bang for buck at RTW3).

Thank heavens for Pat's car. We whisked off away from the venue and the masses of rideless teens lingering all over it. We dropped Chung off at his home, and the remaining three of us settled at a 24-hour mamak stall, to break our all-day-and-night fast and discuss the recent event, till 3AM.

Final verdict: Um, the free "[INSERT EVENT SPONSOR] ROCKS!" t-shirt sucks. We were hoping for something like the organizing staff were wearing.

| 12/23/2003 12:24:00 AM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Monday, December 01, 2003

Quick Hari Raya break

Holiday breaks will be quite common this semester (Hari Raya, Christmas, Chinese New Year) which will undoubtedly make it a little more hectic getting through.

Had the first one. Strangely, I was moping all week. I know it showed. My first Hari Raya here in KL was, frankly, depressing.

Why? you naturally wonder, because technically I don't celebtrate Raya. Didn't fast for a month, did I? Well, I've figured out the reasons: First of all, I do celebrate Raya; having Muslim extended family members makes that quite possible. If I were back home for Raya, I'd be fishing for duit Raya and hunting for kuih batik (my hands-down favorite), and not to mention the merriment of a host of cousins, a fabulous congregation possible only on special occasions, such as this, Christmas and baby showers. I miss all that.

Second of all, it reminded me so much of my first Christmas in KL. Depressing, just the same. I only have to look at a Muslim Sabahan friend of mine who's spending his first Raya holiday away from home. Outwardly he showed a cheerful resignation to his predicament, but he could have been crying alone in his room; you never know. Heheh.

Raya being contiguous with a weekend had the campus library closed for a whole week. Ergo no free Internet all through the break, making it all the more dismal. Email to check, spam to delete, perhaps blog comments to respond to, and tons of blogsurfing to do. Top of the list is Jeff Ooi's Screenshots, where fiery debates go on all the time; at the moment, with the PAS Islamic State Document as the current hot topic, I can't stand not keeping up. Particularly since one interesting participant called chez1978 is someone I usually find in the (teen community site) XFresh forums, too.

The things I want to google, wiki and just generally look up on the net are accumulating on my todo.txt file. (FYI, it's a text file where I store urls and other tidbits and a list of things to do online, which I carry around with me in a diskette, deployed and updated wherever opportune. It's like an ultra bare PIM, sure beats Favorites/Bookmarks, and portable as hell.)

Hey I'm not a net addict. I actually had no intention of looking for a cybercafe to gratify my longings. If I can have free, high-speed net access from my campus library, I absolutely refuse to go anywhere else and pay by the hour. Net access, to me, should be like air — ubiquitous and free of charge.

Okay, so I am one.

| 12/01/2003 12:09:00 AM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Another semester begins

Location: UM, KL.

Jiminy crickets! There is hope for me! I checked; my CGPA is up. Though still miles away from the pinnacle, it's the hope I've been waiting for. I will pull this off. With honours. Meantime send over the reward money, Dad.

I'm feeling swell! I've got a fresh new haircut. I've got a breeze-beaten tan. And a new cell phone. All I need now is a girlfriend.

| 11/18/2003 08:20:00 PM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Friday, November 07, 2003

Poring Hot Springs and Gaya Island

I'm utterly grateful to Chris, Jey and Lai for being the friends-back-home that I like them to be: adventurous and "reunion-y" on holidays. Just days before I was to pack up for KL once again, we set off for our eco-roadtrip, with (hooray) two destinations back-to-back: Poring Hot Springs, an hour drive from Kinabalu Park, and Gayana Resort in a corner of Gaya Island, 30-minute boatride from KK. Tell you all about it.

To really enjoy a relaxing, Japanese-style hot spring bath, one should first get cold, wet and loosened up by taking a dip in the swimming pools at Poring. Man, my first swim in five months. How I longed for it.

I have a confession to make: I can't dive. I may be a far better swimmer than Jey, but he can dive and I can't. Jey was hounding me at the pools to demonstrate how I go about diving; good thing there were no onlookers around and I was a little more eager than reluctant to get what little practice I've had. All my life I've never tried enough; that's why I suck and get so self-conscious. Stop laughing. I hope to master this someday — what's the point of being impressive in the water if you can't enter it in the only graceful and sexy way?

By late afternoon and before it gets dark, you can head for the open air hot spring baths. Turn on the tap to fill your bath with the geothermally heated, mineral-rich water. If by luck there are only a few patrons around, you can have one bath per person, but it's always more fun to have two sitting in so you can chat away while your bath slowly fills up. In fact you can squeeze six in a bath together; trust me, we've done it.

Once the water level reaches your elbow as you sit back, you can really start to unwind. There's a marvellous view of rainforest all around. Absorb the warmth and sulphur; they're good for you. Now close your eyes, slowly slump down and dip your head back until your ears are submerged in the clear, tangy water... in addition to feeling like you're melting away, you'll experience a welcome silencing of the senses — like you're being shut out from the rest of the universe. You can fall asleep like this. It's pure ecstasy. (Lai can't do it; she's actually scared of "being shut out from the rest of the universe.")

If it starts to pour, like it did when we were there, don't leave the bath yet. It's not everyday you get caught in the freezing rain while you soak in steaming hot water. Enjoy the tantalizing smorgasbord of sensations.

(For more travel ideas stay tuned to Lionel Set Loose. Same time, same URL.)

Spent a night at Kinabalu Park. Not particularly fun when all you've got are playing cards, there's nothing on TV and a girl establishes a ban on ghost stories. Next morning was a long drive back to KK, and from there we caught our boat to Gayana. By early afternoon feet were on sand.

If I may continue pretending to be a travel show host, here is my assessment of the spot. Compared to another island that I've frequently been to, Manukan, Gayana Resort is just a little further away from the city, more secluded and obviously less patronized. I think there was a fee for just being there... I don't exactly remember; Jey took care of it (excuse my terrible hosting here).

You can definitely get a better look at coral reefs here. The marine wildlife is ostensibly denser and more diverse than I've seen on Manukan Island — that, or I wasn't as lucky before. By just circling one rather photogenic point in the water I was able to find sponges, sea anemones, a little party of sea urchins, a couple of neon-blue starfishes and a huge fat spiky starfish that had a name I didn't know (looked really special to me), lurking under the thick coral canopy.

[UPDATE: it's called the crown-of-thorns.]

It's easy to step on anything here! One must be careful not to damage the corals. It freaks Jey out.

Because it got quite cloudy as the day aged, I managed to dodge a sunburn, having bravely swum shirtless. In spite of that, I also managed to finally eliminate my golfer's tan (see: your dad's pale torso) after being devoid of any beaching opportunity for months on end. Feels good to be monochromous again.

We had an early dinner at the resort's open air restaurant. Now, under normal circumstances that wouldv'e been insane but the meal was made gratuitously affordable with the RM60 voucher we had been provided. Food was awesome. Nice sea view, too.

At this point Jey — a UMS marine biology student — shared with me that he sometimes does volunteer work at this resort during holidays. Benefits include lodging, nutrition (oh boy, those are already worthwhile), and the recreational pleasure and learning experience that come with the job. He said he is sent off for specimen harvesting errands, to be used for research or ecotourism purposes: he just swims and snorkels around to look for a certain type of coral or a sea critter, for instance, and extracts it. Cool work, huh? I might consider joining Jey one day if I get the chance.

Went home at last before it got dark. But the day wasn't over yet; we went to see The Matrix Revolutions that night. I'll have to post a review soon, don't I?

Holiday well spent.

| 11/07/2003 08:18:00 PM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Tun Dr. M retires, and the OIC speech

So! One of the most colourful (euphemism for "headline grabbing" I guess) political figures of our times has finally cleared his desk. Went out with a bang, he did.

My initial reaction to the intense backlash on Mahathir's most recent infamous remarks was to shrink and hide under a pillow on behalf of my country. Wasn't that embarrassing.

How could he be so tactless? How could he not know how sensitive the West are about anti-Semitism? How could Osten, the first Survivor contestant to ever quit the show, be cast on in the first place? Giant chicken fart, wasn't he, Doctor?

Then I thought, "tactless" might just as well be his middle name. Mahathir could always be counted on for remarks blunt, sarcastic, controversial, maverick, and a truckload of other descriptive words well associated with him. Gutsy. Pardon me for getting a little sentimental, but it's almost admirable how he can be recklessly bold and brash and still must be taken seriously because he's telling nail-hard home truths.

I have to admit, being a Malaysian, the international uproar was a bit of a surprise — what the hell is everybody so rabid about? (Oh, anti-Semitism. I'll get to this later.) I guess, with a lot of tolerance to spare, Malaysians have been quite used to the Mahathir rhetoric. In fact, his OIC speech sounded curiously familiar, like it was recycled from one of his old speeches meant for a local audience...

Ah, yes. Just substitute "Muslims" for "Malays" and "Jews" for "Chinese." Outspoken Mahathir has never been afraid to lambast and ridicule his own race if he thinks it's sensible. He has frequently urged Malays to emulate their hardworking and entrepreneurial Malaysian Chinese neighbours. To the Malaysian Chinese, yeah that's flattering, while also humbly ironic: Here is a man who tries to be a champion of the Malays among other things, and in all his wisdom prescribes to look towards what a typical Malay chauvinist would think of as the competition.

For the record, Dr. M wasn't so grossly antisemitic, especially if only he hadn't used Mahathir language. The speech was meant for the Muslim ear, and if you're not one you have to listen to it as if you were. Granted, his speech was clunky and foolhardy — by trying too well to appeal to the Middle Eastern Muslim mind — but as far as I know, world Muslims, Malaysians and attentive others got the message. He's telling Muslims in general to quit the violence and anger, and to instead use their brains as well as emulate, of all people, the hardworking and entrepreneurial Jews in order to better themselves. His most targeted statement by far, "The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy" was pretty much a salute to the thriving Jews for their success despite history. You know, like the folks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A tactless one, of course.

| 11/04/2003 02:04:00 AM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Home again

Two week semester break. I've chosen to spend my two weeks in KK, because for my year-end break next March-to-May I plan to stay on in KL to take an extra semester, ergo I wouldn't be able to see my hometown again for a long while. I need the extra effort to properly stretch my brain around this vocation I've got myself into.

S is not one Sabahan who is eager to return anytime. He'd think twice about it. He is so at home in KL, with his friends at the college he goes to (HELP Institute), clubbing regularly, updating his wardrobe regularly... he's practically a KLite. Can't blame him; his hometown Kota Belud isn't exactly anyone's idea of a happening place. Or maybe the whole state for that matter.

I, for the record, adore KL too. My second home. Like S, I'm the type who's absolutely into big cities. Unlike my friend however, I'd jump at a chance to fly back to Sabah, for at least three motivations: catching up with old pals (who don't seem to hate staying put), there's ASTRO at home (not getting a lot of that at campus), and... the ecostuff. You know, the big mountain, the beach that seems to be everywhere, the coral-skirted islands, the awe-sucking rainforests. Sabah is like my convenient getaway from the metropolitan KL.

So here I am in KK. I can quite understand S's... concern. Little city hasn't changed much. Still relatively quiet. That new flyover — first one ever *cringe* — is still under construction since the last couple of times I came back. And when you're asked out for a movie, you still don't say "Where?" because there's still just one cineplex around.

Self has changed somewhat since, though. Obviously I've gotten a bit city-slicker snobbish. On the bright side, I've a newfound appreciation for Sabahan babes as I go urban sightseeing. Although my Sarawakian babe fetish continues to stand.

I've also been more appreciative of my friends. Been missing them. Vowed to take the initiative to personally and thoughtfully buy birthday gifts for others, so that they in return will remember mine. Brilliant, eh?

The day I got here, the 20th, was also Chris' girlfriend's birthday. Lai is a Linkin Park chick, but she has revealed an ear for jazz too, because she dearly loves the Michael Bublé CD I bought her. Even if she wasn't into that, I reckoned it's actually good enough to make her start. Yes, take that as a favorable rating of the CD by me. Anyway, Lai liked it so much she sent me a grateful thank you SMS the day after. Score! Karma points. Looking forward to a fruitful birthday next year...

Any more grounds to having my break in KK? Well, I thought if I won't be seeing home for another year or so, I might want to salvage more personal junk to take along to KL, but I'll worry about that later...

Priority one is to make sure I'll have an eco-vacation with friends — as I've always done whenever I take a semester break here. If you recall, my last two were at Manukan Island; I don't mind going there again. Though I do hear suggestions for a road trip to Poring Hot Springs, which would be awesome, too. Wherever!

In the meantime I'm taking daily driving lessons. Before this, I've been a total virgin driver. According to my instructor/cousin Gary I wasn't bad at getting the hang of things, but being a complete newbie I get mentally burned out every single day. Fucking seriously. I'm beginning to dread these lessons. There was that buzz of being behind the wheel at first, which easily vanished into the black whirlpool of tedium. Currently desperately working on my U-turns and roundabouts; they need lots of it.

I'm also spending time tending to Mom's savage garden. As a kid, just standing in the front yard — which seemed to have a personality of its own — was a thrill for me. Nowadays, having been away from home for about three years now, absence has made the heart grow... wary and untrusting. My homecoming has coincided with Mom's decision to chop apart one of her thorny bougainvillea monstrosities; a guest addition to the list of house chores. Not crazy about it. Very bad for health.

And I must tell you about the terrible beast she encountered and slayed as we worked: a huge centipede as long as a foot and as broad as a finger. Using her big garden shears, she snipped it — but the lethal deed, while effective, was incomplete. Tough as a soggy twig, its writhing body was only caught between the blades, a ghastly pulp where anthropod flesh and stainless steel met. Even when fatally mutilated, the black-and-orange nightmare continued its wrestle to escape the death machine. Placed on the ground, it was literally dragging the heavy garden tool about, just to creep me out.

Rest assured, the hideous one saw its end, slowly but surely. Red ants were swift to appear and capitalize on their windfall of fresh meat; the legion verociously smothered the fallen creature as its three dozen limbs wavered, as if vainly trying to fend off its destiny. I could only step back to let nature take its brutal and relentless course. The end.

I'll keep you posted.

Song in head: 12:51, the Strokes.

| 10/25/2003 08:25:00 AM Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!