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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!