What I Learnt from an Indian Memory Champion

Update: I put my photos on Facebook so they’re here if you want to take a look at brainy stuff.

I got the flu bug and now I am feeling completely buggered! I don’t know if going for my Thai massage on Monday had anything to do with this but it seems all toxins have escaped and making my life (and nose) hell.

I’m big on diagnosing my health and at this point, I’m most likely to suffer from Wind Cold. I start coughing if I am near cool air! It sucks of course. And I detest coughing! It makes me very annoyed and disrupts my work.

Having the flu is a trinity of sore throat, running nose and cough – well that’s what a flu does to me. I am not the best of company when I get sick. I am extremely grouchy and sensitive. I start withdrawing into myself.

But I shan’t wallow in such pitiful episodes.

A Day at Forever 21

Wait a minute, it could also be due to my hectic weekend. Lisa came up from KL for a weekend. While we actually spent almost the whole of Friday shopping at Forever21 @ Queensbay Mall like some datin without work to do, I don’t think it was the trying on/changing clothes that created this episode though we were caught in a drizzle as we left the mall in the evening.

The Brainy Stuff at TAR

It could have been the next two days where I attended the Festival of the Mind at TAR College. I helped out at the Mensa Penang booth a bit though I am not a Mensa member but chewahhh….I could explain it all. (My memory since my thesis days are still good!)

An Ant/Anant Taught Us How to Remember

The talks were exciting though. I sat in during Anant Kashibatla’s session on improving memory. Now I can say my memory is like an elephant’s. But still, I’d love to hear what this Indian national memory record holder has to say about memory. He was a cute Telegu fellow with a bit of baby fat and a full head of curly hair, speaking with a dash of Indian accent.

He astounded us all when he memorized a series of 30 random digits in less than 2 minutes (earlier called out by the audience). Ya I know he is a record holder for memorizing numbers but to have seen him in action was another thing. Anant could even recite the 30 digits backwards.

Our jaws hit the lecture hall floor.

Then we were asked to remember 20 items from a slide he showed. “No…” came the long gasps from us scaredy-cat folks.

But he did it. He taught us a storytelling-visualisation technique, linking each item together in a fantastical story. That done, one Chinese lady literally jumped up to volunteer to recall the 20 items. Then came a teenager who also did it correctly. After that we were like jubilant school kids, suddenly excited and totally proud of our memory! We could all recall the 20 items, as amazing as it sounded. Corny as it sounds, we recited the 20 items for him!

Tip to Remember Forever

The key here is to turn the item you want to remember into a picture. Then link the items together with a story that sounds crazy but we’re not looking for logic now.

So to remember items like Twin Towers, hot air balloon, elephant, flowers, tent, rocket, go kart, Jackie Chan, etc. we were asked to close our eyes and imagine “The Twin Towers, where suddenly a hot air balloon comes up, in it is an elephant and it is throwing flowers down to a tent. From the tent comes a rocket which hits a go kart driven by Jackie Chan……”

Good stuff, right? The idea is to recall the story and you would have recalled the random items in proper order! You can even recall the items starting from the last item.

Use Alpha to Get What You Want

The other talk I liked was Mr Sukh Dev’s You Can Program Your Success. He was an energetic speaker with enough actions and energy to rev us all up that mid morning. Some actions were a bit too strange for me – hey, I don’t go around hugging everyone ok? He spoke of getting into alpha brain wave to gain more for our lives, be it love, money or whatever we wish. Alpha brain waves was the core topic for the 2 days (yes, I know, it was all about the brain and mind).

Read 25K words Per Minute Too

Sussanne Lee’s PhotoReading session was rewarding in that she introduced a concept (new to me at least) about how to read, absorb and understand books using your alpha! It’s not speedreading because in this new concept, you read lots more – about 25,000 words per minute. No, that’s not a typo. It’s 25K words per minute.

She didn’t go through everything in a detailed manner (eh, she’s a trainer and trains people to do photoreading so I didn’t think she’d give away her trade secrets!) as it was just an hour of time but apparently it helps you grasp information faster.

Sussanne smartly answered our skeptical questions with a prepared FAQ. Does it reduce the enjoyment of reading novels? It doesn’t. Who can do this? She works with anyone 15 years and above (especially if you’re cramming for exams like PMR, SPM etc). You can audit the course anytime once you’re done with it…it means you can sit in any time for a refresher if you forgot. (Clever comeback – if you tend to forget, the first course you should take is Anant’s improve your memory course before you take this course!)

It was totally mind-bending stuff at the 2-day festival. No wonder I ended up with the flu! I overworked and overfocused my brain!

Finally, My Brain is Old in an Awful Way

Did I tell you that I sat for this quick computer game which analysed my brain age? The 10 questions were simple enough but tested you on the speed of your response and memory. The first time, my brain age was 33 (yucks, close to my real age of 34) and me being me, I played the game again and got a brain age of 28. I asked the crew what is the lowest brain age one could be. He said 20. My friend Cecilia got 20 and she’s a mom to 3 kids (but my consolation is, she is a Mensa member so no fight lah).

Anyway, perhaps too much of brain stimulation that did me in!

My photos are in the other laptop so I will put them up asap once I get home! ;-) This post has cheered me up considerably and brought me out of my snivelling doldrums…. blogging is good for health!

Gotta Love a Man Who Bakes

I realized that a lot of things can be therapeutic and relaxing. For me, it’s beading (that’s making earrings with bling, lots of them), crochet (all I wanna do is amigurumi, that’s cute animal creatures instead of some huge shawl or pullover), gardening (I find peace in weeding and killing mealy bugs) and of course cooking and baking.

Baking is of course a result of getting this cheap oven from Tesco. I mean, I’m still in the testing it out stage so no point in getting the top of the range oven. Anyway, my apartment kitchen is too small!

My latest craze is baking bread but since that last episode (of a successful bread recipe from watching Chef Michael Smith on AFC), I have not had time to bake much bread.

I have relied on Gardenia for bread.

And Gardenia is not exactly the best type of bread there is but one has to eat, so the nearest thing for breakfast is commercial bread.

But BG, a friend (yes, now I know who you are!) is a man who bakes for his wife. He bakes because it is also therapeutic.

Kneading bread is fun and I think that’s why he loves it so. Just like I like to see my dough rising. So excited over such banal everyday cooking but then again, nothing beats cooking. You get to eat the outcome!

So if you are looking for tried and tested bread recipes (BG has international tastes OK, from ciabatta to beer bread) and a no-fail approach to baking bread that is free of preservatives, you have to stop by his bread blog. As he is based in KL, he also informs where to buy bread flour! He does an excellent job of breaking down the art of making bread into something simple and homey and of course, full of love!

Gotta love a man who bakes bread right?

One Girl’s Dream…

Woke up to an excited SMS this morning.

Jana’s SMS read told me to read The Star, particularly Anthony Thanasayan’s Wheel Power column (he’s her friend and like her, he is also a local councillor but for a different district in Selangor).

I called her the minute I finished reading “Abby’s Dream” (which you can find at: http://tinyurl.com/6936z3).

Jana promised to email me some photos of Abby and said that the Rotary Club will be giving away wheelchairs to Abby and her siblings this coming Sunday, one day before Deepavali, at the Dewan Sri Jugra in Kuala Langat.

One anonymous person even SMS-ed Jana this morning, asking for Abby’s bank account number so he/she could make a donation to this girl.

Abby is one spirited 24-year old who works for the Jabatan Pengairan & Saliran in Sungai Sedu, Kuala Langat despite her muscular dystrophy. However, there are no disabled facilities at this government department so poor Abby has to ‘tahan’ and wait till she gets home to use the bathroom!

That’s terrible, I wailed to Jana.

Anyway, Abby has got one fantastic thing going for her – she has been nominated Most Outstanding Youth of the Year Award 2008 by the Asian Youth Ambassadors (AYA) based in Subang Jaya, Selangor. You can vote for her and I hope she wins. She’s a brilliant example to everyone because she doesn’t let bad circumstances get her down.

Abby has a few wishes of her own. She wants to get suitable wheelchairs and medical cushions for herself and her siblings (the Rotary Club is helping with this), to get a scholarship to study and of course, if you can, vote for her before the award deadline on Nov 2nd.

If you can help Abby in any way, call Jana at 016-436 2301.

My little community message to help Jana spread the news far and wide!

Unleashing the Mind at the Festival

I will be attending, no, helping out during this weekend’s Festival of the Mind at TAR College as a result of my usual busybodying. (This is what happens when you are the unofficial committee member of Mensa Penang by virtue of your husband being a committee member!)

But lest you think that I’m being dragged there, no lah, I am quite happy really to join in these social events.

This weekend is one of those exciting events – I missed the Tony Buzan mindmapping workshop sometime ago because Nic forgot to tell me about it.

In our relationship, I am the timekeeper, the walking rolodex, the appointment manager so if he tells me there’s something going on somewhere, I make a note and decide if we want to go or not. Apparently it slipped his mind the last round.

This round though I will be going for the Festival of Mind, partly to help out at the Mensa Penang booth and partly to listen to the talks. Which you probably are going to ask me, if I adore these brain games stuff and IQ stuff, why am I not in Mensa?

Good question but I’m not mad. I enjoy sudoku, rubik cube, treasure hunts, vocab games and all those intellectual quests but I am not interested to know if I belong to the top 2 per cent of the population – the high IQ population that is. I might realize I am not in that exclusive population and then, what do I do?

Anyway, if you have some time this weekend and want to learn speed reading, mindmapping, how to increase your brain power, how to be essentially smarter, how to make yourself seem smarter than you already are, then attend any of the talks and demos at TAR College.

Date: 25 – 26 October 2008
Time: 9:30am – 4:30pm
Venue: Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman
(Penang Branch Campus)
77, Lorong Lembah Permai Tiga,
Tanjong Bungah, 11200 Pulau Pinang

Full details of talks and everything else over at http://tinyurl.com/5b3qkc

Tickets (though free), on a first-come, first served basis, will be issued 30 minutes before each talk. Each participant is entitled to collect a maximum of 4 tickets at one time. So get yours fast. I am sure the tickets will be going like hot cup cakes.

Oh beware of clicking the links at the UTAR website – they are PDFs and open without warning once you click it.

Is it just me or do I hate surprises like PDFs suddenly popping open? Why can’t they just list them down in a table instead of having me open 6 PDFs just to find out what’s what? It’s plain annoying! (I don’t mind if they warn me first that it’s a PDF. They don’t. They expect everyone to have a PDF reader in their PC. Ugh.)

So, see you there then.

I’m going because I want to see what parts of my brain I haven’t enhanced yet!

Tell Me, Is A Good Man That Hard to Find?

My question again: Is a good man/guy that hard to find?

No, I’m not going to have a mid-life crisis.

I am asking because it seems that a number of women and gals I know (and who are perfectly OK in every sense) cannot seem to find the right guys to date or settle down with!

Over apple-flavoured tea and chocolate-covered-melt-in-your-mouth fluffy donuts a few days ago, my cousin and I were talking about how her colleagues, well meaning as they were, tried to pair her off with some guys.

Of course, this cousin of mine is not old at all…she’s only 26. But she doesn’t seem to be making any leeway in terms of the dating game. She’d rather hang out with her gal pals.

She’s a girl with brains so maybe, just maybe, guys are afraid of girls who can speak their minds. So I ask her, well, what do you want in a boyfriend?

She doesn’t hesitate at all.

“He must speak English. Otherwise he won’t get the punchline!”

I know that her work as a graphic designer brings her in contact with lots of guys but they’re Chinese-educated guys. Which for her, an MGS gal, is like total opposites.

Can try but can break a vein trying!

For one, have I not told you that the English speaking among us can try to be friends with the Mandarin speaking among us but it’s like Martians and Venusians trying to get along?

It’s not very pleasant – maybe it’s the sort of thinking that English speaking Malaysians have. The Mandarin speakers think we are the actsy sort just because we speak English! Bah. They think we’re snotty.

So I tell her, go where the English speaking sorts are… how about the British Council. Try hanging about where your prospects are (that’s Marketing 101 for you). Sign up for a class at the British Council and see if you don’t meet likeminded men who speak English and can get jokes without going ‘huh’?

I told her she ought to get out of the house more. This anime-loving, Korean drama fan and PC nerd of my cousin loves nothing better than lounging about at home in front of her PC when she’s not working. She loves playing online games and getting her laughs from Korean comedies. She’s also a big fan of Terry Pratchett and would rather spend her money buying books than buying this season’s clothes.

So I start thinking, is a good guy that hard to find? She tells me that every other guy she knows is either gay or totally not her cup of Starbucks. I find that guys these days are so androgenous that gals are a lot more ‘tough’ by comparison.

Where are the guys of my time? Guys who looked like guys? Guys who didn’t swipe their girl friends’ lip balm? Guys whom you didn’t have to play the guessing game if they’re gay or straight.

It’s not my dear cousin’s dilemma either. Her sister’s friend, who was paired up with a guy, didn’t make it past 2 months of dating. They split after 60 days!

Another friend of mine who is pretty and independent cannot find a man. There’s nothing wrong with her at all. Another friend of mine who is in politics tell me that she also cannot find the right guy despite always being in touch with the local community with her work.

“How about the men in your political meetings? Don’t you all go out for drinks or makan?” I ask. You see, I’m curious.

Really, where have all the good men gone?

“Ya, when we go out for teh tarik, we still talk politics! Where got time to talk about other stuff?” Plus she says they’re all old and grumpy.

More and more, I am hearing the same stories.

Cannot meet the right men but they keep meeting the wrong ones, gays, men not interested in women, men interested in politics but not women or meeting men who just want to shag!

Yes, darlings, there are crappy men like that. They want you to get into the sack with them and then, so long ma’am. It’s just fun baby. Don’t take it too seriously ya.

So I am left wondering – are the right men all married? Are the right men in the places where women aren’t looking (under a rock perhaps)?

I also ask myself this: if I weren’t married, would I have a hard time finding the right man? In my time, it was easier to find men. They actually looked like men! These days, just because you think it walks like a man and shaped like a man may NOT be a man at all!

Like my cousin says, she doesn’t need to go hang about clubs and pubs to reel in a man. That’s not her style and she’s right.

I told her to go hang around Borders (especially the shelves with Terry Pratchett books!) and see if she can’t find a guy who loves to read like her.

Many years ago, a guy infiltrated our group of women bookworms and got himself a wife! I am not joking. He came to our book meets and fell in love with one of my friends. Everyone got invited for their wedding a few years back but we couldn’t help but think, wow, the audacity yet it worked. It was like a movie plot but it was real. They’re still happily married to each other so yes, finding a partner who loves the stuff you love can be a turn-on and attractor factor.

So tell me, I have no answers why a good man is that hard to find. I have on the other hand a few eligible men friends who seem to have it tough finding the women they want to marry! A friend of mine is wealthy and good-looking but no one wants to be his girl friend! So maybe it’s not the looks or the money then.

Another guy I know is sweet and thoughtful yet he can’t seem to find the right women to date!

Tell me, is a good man/ woman that hard to find?

How did you find your husband/boyfriend/wife/girlfriend?

Mine was easy. I found him when I was studying in USM, in my first year. He was introduced to me by a good friend and we’ve been dating since 1994 and married since 2001. I guess I got lucky!

I wonder if I would be lucky if I were single again in today’s relationship market?

A Special Children’s Sunday

I was invited for the Handicapped Children Centre’s Open Day and Concert a few days ago (Sunday morning) by Josephine.

She’s volunteering with the centre and told me that the children, all 63 of them, had put so much heart and soul into this open day.

I dragged Nic along that morning, knowing that yes, we could laze about on a weekend but we could also lend some support to these special children.

Prize-giving to outstanding students of the centre by Penang Governor's wife

Prize-giving to outstanding students of the centre by Penang Governor's wife

The Handicapped Children’s Centre is on Grove Road, just behind the State Mosque [The Handicapped Children Centre is on 24B, Grove Road, 11400 Penang]. I had been here before in my corporate comm days as my ex-company was also doing some CSR for this organisation. It is in this peaceful residential area and away from the main road. Started in 1964, the centre helps school children who are disabled, children with Down’s and children considered in need of special teaching and special teachers (such as those with autism).

You know we take things for granted? At this centre, you will be reminded that you DON’T take things for granted at all. Some of the children have difficulty concentrating, holding a colour pencil is really a challenge due to limited motor skills and limited coordination. Other children cannot communicate well and are painfully shy.

Being able to remember is a cognitive skill we always take for granted.

Not so here.

For many here, counting up to 20 or stringing 3 words in a sentence are accomplishments to be really supportive and proud of.

Besides classroom lessons, these special children are also taken out on field trips to the bank, post office and shopping malls so that they get used to people and learn how to carry out simple tasks like banking, taking a bus and shopping.

The classroom walls are decorated with paper cut-outs of birds which the children coloured and I am surprised to learn that some of these children are not children anymore (most are teens but they are just acquiring essential skills to help them adjust to society). In fact, one of the boys, Julian Au, came up to shake my hand as I was looking at their artwork. He was shy but courageous enough to extend his hand in friendship!

Indian dance Bollywood style

Indian dance Bollywood style

Having this Open Day then is a major challenge yet achievement for both teachers and students given that the students do not function like you and me. Repetition movements are difficult because they forget so easily. Being in front of a crowd of parents, well-wishers and VIP guests and making eye contact is not something these children are used to.

A Malay dance performance called Lodeh Mak Lodeh by 8 special children.

A Malay dance performance called Lodeh Mak Lodeh by 8 special children.

As I looked at the proud parents and teachers, I was deeply moved by their enthusiasm and cheers. They never gave up on their children, no matter what disability or problems they were born with.

Mohamad Yassin sung a tearjerker Mandarin song much to the crowd's pleasure

Mohamad Yassin sung a tearjerker Mandarin song much to the crowd's pleasure

One particularly moving performance was a Mandarin song sung by an Indian-Muslim teenager in a wheelchair. The crowd came to a hushed silence as Mohammad Yassin began singing in perfect Mandarin. He had memorised the whole song and sung with confidence! It was an emotional moment as many parents started wiping away tears.

Contemporary dance using hula hoops by Lim Tze Jin, Choong Poh Yun, Tung Jia Yu, Joleen Neoh, Lim Chin Wei and Mohd Amir Fikri

Contemporary dance using hula hoops by Lim Tze Jin, Choong Poh Yun, Tung Jia Yu, Joleen Neoh, Lim Chin Wei and Mohd Amir Fikri

Another girl (also in a wheelchair) came out to recite a poem “Aku Menjadi Lebih Berani”. She surprised everyone by reciting it without referring to any scribbled notes!

We sat through the 2 hours and saw the concert from start to finish. It was after all the least we could do after these children/teens had practised for 6 months to get their moves right. The dances and singing may not have been one hundred percent perfect but it was their spirit that gladdened many a heart!

A lively Chinese ribbon dance

A lively Chinese ribbon dance

When you know that memorizing a dance step or a line of a song takes so much effort and time, you begin to realize that perfection is in the motivation to accomplish for these beautiful children.

The concert was graced by the patron of the centre, the Penang Governer’s wife, Toh Puan Hajah Majimor who was accompanied by the wife of the Penang Chief Minister, Betty Chew.

Everyone sang "The Greatest Love of All', event the parents!

It was fitting that the concert ended on a high note where each child sang Whitney Houston’s ‘The Greatest Love of All’. The lyrics were especially thought-provoking in their context.

Amazing art ability of one of the autistic students

Amazing art ability of one of the autistic students

I spoke to one teacher as I was looking at a row of meticulously hand drawn and coloured pictures of wild birds by an autistic 18 year old boy who studied at this centre. She said that once they reach 18 years of age, the children would go to Joblink, a centre that adjoins this Handicapped Children’s Centre. They are then paid to do small and easy tasks to earn a living. Most of the tasks were given by factories – inserting or packing products.

I had a great Sunday outing! And three cheers to these children too for their heartfelt performances.

Full Moon Celebration with the Colonel

Nic passed me a rather large looking angpow last night.

A message stuck on the back of it – “Thanks for celebrating the full moon with me, mummy and daddy!”

Inside the angpow were 2 KFC vouchers!

Nic’s friend had just given birth to a baby boy and like all friends, we had chipped in to buy something nice for the baby.

As is customary, the favour is received with thanks and when the baby reaches 1 month old, his parents would return the favour by sending out gifts.

In those days, parents would order nasi kunyit, chicken curry, red eggs and ang koo to be given out to friends and relatives, announcing the 1 month celebration of their baby. Parents would most likely drive about and spread the good news to everyone, face to face. Friends and relatives would then catch up with the newborn’s news and chat a bit about how the new mom is doing etc.

Oh how times have changed! In such a short time, so many traditions have come and gone.

I felt quite wistful about this as I saw the 2 KFC vouchers.

Nowadays, it’s too much of a hassle giving out packs of Full Moon Goodies (nasi kunyit and the like). First you have to drive to your friends’ homes, make sure they are at home and pass the goodies to them. (By the way, I helped my sister do this when my nephew was 1 month old. It was tedious, yes, but it is tradition. As you can sense, I am a great stickler for traditions. The older I get, the more I want to preserve the unique aspects of life as I used to know it.)

Nowadays, you just go to KFC and buy a bunch of KFC vouchers and put them into ang pows and post them along to your friends! The Colonel does great business this way but I don’t have my nasi kunyit or curry chicken any more. Which is quite sad in a way.

We’re modern creatures now and we think of faster ways to get our message across. But I think that sometimes the old ways aren’t so bad either.

Think of it – if you were to go house to house and pass out boxes of nasi kunyit and curry chicken, you had a chance to ‘sembang’ with your friends and neighbours. It was true communication. It wasn’t so much about the full moon goodies but it was the face to face contact which people enjoyed.

Now, the only people you get to ‘sembang’ with was the KFC staff behind the counter asking if you want Original or Hot and Spicy!

It’s the same with mooncakes. I don’t fancy those newfangled flavour combinations, creative and interesting though they may be. Give me good old lotus paste mooncake any day and I will die a happy woman. Give me the kind of food I used to eat when I was a child.

You see, the more choices we have, the more we tend to fall back on the tried and tested. Choices just serve to confuse people. Variety is good if you don’t need to make a choice. If you have 2,374 types of ice cream flavours, chances are you will choose the simplest and most basic flavour of all and I bet you it would be chocolate!

I don’t have children yet but when I do, I hope to have real full moon goodies to pass out to friends instead of getting them to make a date with the Colonel!

Diamonds Over Tea

This whole week has been work, work and more work so I was quite happy to let go of all that and go do my other stuff – you know, my WomenBizSense stuff.

[By the way, Kristine announced that WomenBizSense will be given a spotlight at next year's Business Card Festival that her company is organising (media profile, talk session and the works). Yay and thanks, Kristine!]

I thrive on things like this. I know I can be called mad but I’m the kind of person who likes organising events (eh, maybe I should be an event planner, hor!), getting people together and being the Mother Hen. I said Mother Hen, not Mamasan, OK.

Our meetings are now on a monthly basis to accommodate ladies who said they really want to meet up more often. So we now have Quarterly Meetings, Lunch Bunch meetings and Networking Teas. All for women who own and run their own businesses.

Yesterday we had our Quarterly Meeting at Joyce’s shop, Hundredfold, at Penang Plaza. Joyce is an artist and art teacher while her husband, John, is a certified gemologist. (I found out he is also a Sining, an offshoot of Cantonese, like me so we were happily talking away in our soon-to-be-obsolete dialect much to Joyce’s amusement!)

At this meeting, we met 2 new women business owners, Hannah who owns a telemarketing business called Hanacom and Shan Shan who owns an electrical item shop. Hannah was patient enough to tell us the difference between telemarketing and telesales because our eyes grew big as plates and our jaws momentarily dropped. “Telemarketing? Like credit cards and banks?”

I am amazed sometimes how people get into the business they get into.

Like Hannah’s.

It is a tough business.

It is cold-calling.

Now, hands up… who likes cold-calling? Cold-calling is an art and one has to be thick-skinned enough to withstand not only rude folks on the phone but people slamming their phones on you! Rejection, disappointment, craziness.

I salute Hannah’s persistence as she started on her own, at home, by calling up to 120 people a day! Nowadays she doesn’t do it on her own anymore – she has a team of people do that but I believe she is involved in a lot of training too.

Of course, no WomenBizSENSE meeting is complete without some form of sustenance.

Everyone brought food for tea – Muzlifah cooked a rich chicken curry, Lee Min brought her special oyster mushroom fried with tempura batter, Kristine brought the piece de resistance of the day – this beautiful dessert of layers upon layers of French crepes interspersed with cream! There was not a slice left of this dessert at the end of the day! She promised to email us the person who made this sinfully rich dessert! Apparently the ‘baker’ in question is someone who enjoys baking and cooking so this is really a work of art!

We even had a free jewellery cleaning service when John, Joyce’s husband, gave us ladies a few pointers on taking care of our gemstones and pearls. Our rings shone a little brighter when we left John’s shop yesterday evening!

We were privileged to talk to John as he is a certified gemologist who can determine if your gems are real or (gasp) fake. His lab is the one and only gem-testing laboratory in Penang so your gems are in good hands.

He can set stones, he can design whatever ring or necklace you fancy with your favourite gems based on your budget. The biggest problem, he says, is that most clients don’t name a budget. Without a budget, it’s hard to say how much a diamond ring, designed to your specifications, would cost!

I love gemstones especially amethyst so his shop was like paradise – all types of expensive gems winking away at me.

As his shop is not the type you can walk into any time of the day (he sees clients by appointments only), I felt quite fortunate to be able to look at the gemstones at such close range and be able to ask him all sorts of questions. I am sure I would be calling John again, if only to let him check out this amethyst Nic bought me a few years ago and see what I could do with it!

If you’re interested in John’s service, you can find Hundredfold on the 2nd Floor of Penang Plaza, next to Nutrimetics or call him (ask for John Ng) at 04 899 8469.

My Favourite Chinese Foods Which I Won’t Ever Eat

If you are 30 years and above and Malaysian Chinese, you probably will know what I am talking about.

I started off responding to Marsha’s comment on this blog post about made in China ice cream. Then I realized that hey, it could be a blog post on its own.

You know why?

If you are Malaysian Chinese and have lived long enough in this world, you will know that even before the awful melamine milk scandal, we’ve been eating Chinese products for a long time already. From the time of my grandfather in fact. Maybe even longer!

I suspect we’ve been ingesting enough chemicals to blow ourselves up.

And it’s not just the White Rabbit sweets either.

Here’s a list of my favourite Chinese foods which I am not eating anymore. I’m not scared of dying. I’m just scared of being poisoned and die an unnatural death.

1. Ma Ling Luncheon Meat
I can tell you that THIS is my favourite of all. I can tell you that throughout my growing up years, this has been a family favourite too. Whenever Mom had no time to cook, we’d open up a can of Ma Ling Luncheon Meat, slice the round slab of meat, fry them and god, did they taste heavenly on rice and with bread. The luncheon meat was oily and porky and salty. If you slice it real thin before you fried it, the meat would be crispy and salty! Heaven was in that slice of meat!

But I stopped buying this about 8 or 9 years ago due to one bad incident. I opened up a can of luncheon meat and saw the meat had some greenish mould! Yucks. I don’t know what it was but I was sure I wasn’t going to eat that gross stuff.

Then I started thinking – what do the Chinese put in this can? Is it really pork? Could it be that they ground up other types of meat e.g. roadkill? I still don’t know. I have sworn myself, ok, ok more like weaned myself OFF this Chinese product. I know I could buy the European luncheon meat (which costs a bomb) but nothing tastes like the Chinese version.

Did you know that there’s another version with ham bits? Nic says I’ve been living under a rock as I have never eaten this ham version (I think it’s a premium version). The ham version has a green and white label with a white pig on the label.


2. Pearl Bridge Fried Dace with Black Beans

Who hasn’t eaten this with porridge? The fish is hard, oily and salty. (Hey, it seems all Chinese canned products are salty! In fact, sometimes overly so!). The black beans have an acquired taste but goes so well with the fried fish. Nowadays there are some rip-offs of the original brand. One is in a deep blue tin sold under the Gulong brand. I don’t want to eat this fish anymore because again, like the luncheon meat above, I cannot trust the Chinese manufacturers. I don’t know what chemicals they use to preserve the fish! It is likely to be illegal! On days when I crave something like this, I run out and buy Yeo’s brand Fried Mackeral with Black Beans. Of course it tastes completely different but what to do?

3. White Rabbit milk sweets
Oh, I loved this when I was a kid. I still have a packet in my fridge as I type this. I gave it away to friends as gifts last year during Chinese New Year. It brought back lots of good memories of Chinese New Years past when I would peel off the rice paper wrapping and let it melt slowly, deliciously on my tongue! That would be the best sort of feeling in the world. I loved the creaminess of this milk sweet! I could eat a bunch in one sitting. And now we realize that it contains 50 times the permitted level of melamine!

4. Chinese wax sausages and all types of waxed products

Convenience is the word when I talk about chinese wax sausages or ‘larp cheong’. I’m Cantonese and I grew up eating tons of this precisely because it’s so convenient to prepare. Just throw a pair or two of this into your rice cooker when you are cooking rice. Once the rice is done, so’s the sausage. Take it out and slice it and you have instant food! The oil would have absorbed into the rice, turning the rice into the Chinese version of nasi minyak with a fragrance of pork sausages! Yummy. But what scares me is this: what is the sausage wrapping made of? What is the wax made of?

Then there’s waxed duck thighs which is another gorgeous meat, to be found usually during Chinese New Year. Waxed duck thighs can be cooked like waxed sausages. But you can glamorise it a bit and cook it the way my Grandma did – braised with button mushrooms and chicken meat. This rendered the waxed duck thighs – also extremely salty – to a five-star dish status! Salty and oily – a bad combination for your heart and cholesterol but oh-so-damn-good with rice on the first day of Chinese New Year.

5. Braised pork in a tin
This is one pork dish which can kill your heart. Nic calls it ‘wobbly pork’ because really it wobbles so much due to the fat ratio of the meat. Braised pork in a tin (don’t ask me what the brand is – you don’t need to know the brand but you can see it on supermarket shelves, the non-halal section, of course) is actually chunks of fatty pork immersed in oil! It’s every cardiologist’s nightmare! My Aunt uses this braised pork to stirfry with beehoon, even the oil. Nothing is wasted. Not one drop of oil even. I don’t buy this anymore as I think I’m now 34 years old and I should be kinder to my waist line and heart.

All the above are my fave stuff but I don’t eat them anymore. I am not sure what goes into these food products from China but I really don’t want to know. I might keel over if I find out. But this is not all there is. There’s dried red dates, there’s snow fungus, there’s all sorts of dried herbs from China which I can tell horror stories about. I now go for Eu Yan Sang herbs as I feel safer if there’s a brand behind it.

Speaking of which, I still haven’t dared to eat the Walls’ Moo ice cream even though it’s been cleared of melamine.

How about you?

Tell me if you’re as guilty as I am of ingesting poisons and chemicals, no thanks to unscrupulous Chinese folks in mainland China.

And what’s your favourite canned food of all? ;-)

What 30 Not So Desperate Housewives Did

Tell me, will YOU be free on 2 November?

Will you be in Penang on this date?

If you want to do good and pay it forward, please spread the word that the Buddhist Tzu Chi organisation will be having their annual charity sale at the Pesta Sungai Nibong site from 9am to 3pm.

The sale revenue will be used to help those who are under the Tzu Chi welfare care and support such as kidney patients, those who are poor and to fund international relief work.

Meet the Angels in Blue…

I’ve always had the utmost respect for this organisation and you probably recognise their volunteers/members by their dark blue shirts and white pants. In some places they are known as Blue Angels.

When I was helping to write up the report on the tsunami which happened in Penang in 2004, I was told that Tzu Chi members were the first people who arrived at Tanjung Tokong to help clear debris and find out what else was needed.

Incredibly, they are also the quietest – they do not shout about their good deeds nor boast.

It is precisely this sincerity to help that inspires many (me included – good work has its own volunteer PR team!). Their selfless help transcends all borders of race and religion.

Which is amazing considering that these days, everyone who does something good or noteworthy wants it shouted from the tops of mountains…or at least have some fishy PR mileage out of it.

A friend told me too of how Tzu Chi have been quietly helping people in her area of Sungai Ara. She spoke of this Malay couple who sells pisang goreng near her wet market – this was the only means of earning an income for the couple.

They were very poor and had 6 children to feed. But they also told her how they were grateful to Tzu Chi which came to their aid, giving them money monthly so that they could afford to raise their children. My friend started weeping when she heard this personal account from the Malay man who was in a wheel-chair.

The best thing about this Taiwanese-born organisation is its founder’s core philosophy. Master Cheng Yen advocated self-sustenance for the organisation.

I heard of Master Cheng Yen’s philosophy first hand when I visited the Jing Si Cafe & Bookstore on Beach Street a few years ago. A smiling volunteer came forward to tell us about the founder’s core philosophy. And Master Cheng Yen is a woman (don’t all the best ideas come from women? Yay to women power in changing the world!)

What 30 Not So Desperate Housewives Did…

Master Cheng Yen left home at 26 to be a Buddhist nun and thereafter set up the Buddhist Tzu Chi organisation. Today, this admirable organisation has grown to include 5 million supporters and 30,000 members on a global scale, from First World to Third World nations. And keep doing work that warms the heart and renews faith in the human race.

Particularly touching is the story of how Master Cheng Yen started the wheel of compassion in 1966 – she gathered 30 housewives of Hualien town to start saving 50 cents each day from their grocery money so they could help others. Never doubt what a group of determined women can do.

How You Can Help…

So if you can help the Penang Tzu Chi Annual Charity Sale, please do.

You can either:
* contribute ingredients for the food
* volunteer to man the stalls
* help cook agar-agar for the sale
* contribute old but usable items for the jumble sale
* make glutinous rice balls or ‘tang yuen’
* volunteer to wash dishes during the event (lots of hands needed for this)
* or if you cannot do any of the above, please come to support this event with your family and friends/ buy tickets in bulk – each ticket costs RM 10
* spread the word to your family and friends

If you are coming to buy food at the charity sale, bring along your own food containers or tiffin carriers. Tzu Chi abides by eco-friendly practices so they will not be giving you a chance to litter the earth with plastic or polystyrene.

If you can help in any way, please call Swee Yong at 012-423 8700.

I end with these beautiful words, taken from the Tzu Chi website:

In a rare meeting with Master Cheng Yen, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama stated, “Why should we help people who are in pain and in need of help? It has nothing to do with religion, race or nationality. It has to do with the fact that they are our fellow human beings…”