A Kopitiam Supported Earth Hour Last Night

Yes, a kopitiam in Island Glades supported Earth Hour last night.

And I know this because I was having my dinner of chicken chop with Nic there last night and at the appointed time (they were a bit late, maybe late by 10 minutes or so), the coffeeshop owner and his helpers started bringing out candles.

The ‘si tau poh’ of Cheah’s Delights (the Western food outlet which we ordered cheap and delicious chicken chops from) said that the lights will be going off soon.

We were delighted!

As the flourescent lights went off, lit candles were passed out to tables with patrons. So Nic and I in fact enjoyed our ‘candlelight’ dinner!

When we drove home after a deeply satisfying dinner, I saw that the Petronas station near our area also switched off its lights.

Some cynics label Earth Hour (and the switching off lights for an hour) as a mere publicity stunt but I don’t think so. At least people get to ask why we need to do so and this starts conversations about the state of Mother Earth today. Better than putting them to sleep by talking about Kyoto Protocol.

Switching off the lights is something simple and do-able for many people. If we can start with this, I believe there’s hope for other green activities.

This Course of Life

I have not been in the mood to blog this week.

I don’t know why.

Or maybe I do know why.

I’m thinking of the short story for the MPH Short Story Competition. The deadline is this Tuesday, 31 March. And I told everyone I would be joining. Except that my story is half-written and blah. Blah meaning my inner critic says it sucks.

Sometimes being a writer isn’t all that’s made out to be. But anyway, like Phua Chu Kang says, don’t play play. I shall just have to get the damn story in story mode and submit. After all, it is a promise I made to myself (and bloody announced it to the whole wide world).

Now that I got it out of my system, another thing bugged me.

Actually it was a call from a friend. She tells me that her daughter in Upper Six is almost completing her studies but the poor girl doesn’t know what she wants to do! (Yes, I’m Aunt Abby to all my friends)

I’m not shocked. Actually by the look of our education system today, it’s not strange that the poor girl is at a loss and doesn’t know what she wants in life except that “she really likes Biology”.

When I was 16, I already knew I wanted to be a copywriter and I wanted to study Communications in USM. That was my goal. Of course, I did end up doing all that I aimed for but then again, I KNEW what I wanted to do, even back then when the Internet was non-existent.

She’s not the only one. As I’ve helped organise talks and spoken to young people, I realise that more and more youths these days have no idea what they want to do.

And I surmise it to this: our spoonfeeding education system makes youths depend on teachers and parents for major decisions in life. And when it truly comes down to a major decision (what course to study, where to study, what career choice to make) they go all weak in the knees. For the first time in their lives, they need to really be accountable for themselves. And this is where the sticky puzzle starts.

Not having choices in life can be blessing – I think. I didn’t have a choice, unlike youths of today. My dad was a teacher and mom was a housewife. I had 2 younger sisters. Of course I had to go to Form 6. There was NO CHOICE. Then after Form 6, it was public university.

But today. Today’s world is mind-boggling. Lots of options. You can do Form 6 (but that is so old-fashioned – methinks people don’t dare to challenge themselves with STPM, the mother of all crazy tough exams), you can do matriculation, you can go to college, you can work.

And that’s the worst part of all. With so many options and choices and factors, one gets bewildered. Shall I do this or shall I do that?

And if one has never had to make tough choices in life, then when one does come face to face with a BIG choice like one’s career or ambition (and I don’t mean the stuff you scribbled in school about being a doctor or lawyer or engineer), it is puzzling. It is difficult. For one gets to the crossroads and does not know which path to follow.

I told my friend that we all need not worry. (Heck I have been telling lots of people not to worry. I am the exception to the rule that I knew what I wanted to do from the time I was 16). She worries that her son who is now in Form 5 wants to study an obscure course like environmental science and worries that there’s no job prospect. I want to tell her the story of Nic, yes, Nic my autistic husband (and I say this with utter positivism about autism, not with oh-god-he-is-autistic-i-am-doomed tone), who studied Art and whose parents also thought there’s no future in art and look where Art led him – his own web design business!

Teenagers of today will become adults of tomorrow and no matter what they study, they will eventually survive and thrive. And the course you study may not be what you end up doing. I know people believe that if you study Management, you must end up in some business organisation.

Not really.

Many of my uni friends ended up doing stuff they didn’t or couldn’t imagine back when we were undergrads. So life paths can change and it can be positive change. A degree these days is a stepping stone to better opportunities in life but in order to make it a life YOU treasure, you need to be smart enough to grab those opportunities when they arrive. A degree in medicine does not automatically make you a doctor for life. Just like my degree in Communications with a major in Journalism did not make me a journalist. I run the web design business with Nic but I don’t have an MBA. In fact my Masters has got nothing to do with business but I did it nevertheless because I enjoyed finding out things.

Most people connect tertiary education with better salary, promotion and status. Fine if that’s what you want. But learning for the sake of learning and unintentional learning is also important. These will help you navigate life better.

Maybe one day I should set up a youth consultancy business – to advise parents (not youth) why they should not worry about their children. Like Will Smith says, children are little people with less experience. They’re not there to be controlled by you the parent. As parents, you can only guide them but the end decision is theirs.

Prowling the Garden

While I have been missing from the blog, my other activities continue onwards.

One of them was the MNS Get Together which I attended two Saturdays ago at Botanical Garden. I’ve been an MNS member for 2 years now and though I am subscribed to the YahooGroup and am in the loop of information, I am frankly not a big birding fan. A lot of them are birding enthusiasts but not me. (I am a botany fan though.)

Colugo spotted at night in Penang's Botanical Garden

Colugo spotted at night in Penang's Botanical Garden

Just like Nic has his PHT (Penang Heritage Trust) membership, I have mine as a result of having a soft spot for animals and nature and conservation. So I think my membership dues will help MNS do its bit for the eagles, tigers, tapirs, owls,elephants, monitor lizards and the whole jungle fraternity!

Colugo with baby peeking out

Colugo with baby peeking out

But last Saturday really opened my eyes to what a bunch of nature fans the rest of the MNS members are. They were armed with binoculars and Nikon and Canon cameras. Not my compact type of camera. Those professional cameras complete with separate bazooka-like lenses.

Common tree frog having a nice swim

Common tree frog having a nice swim

After a rather yummy buffet dinner, we were all herded into groups of 10 to take on the night walk in the Botanical Garden. What’s special is this – you cannot go into the garden at night without special permission. That’s why so many MNS members turned up. Not for the dinner, splendid though it was.

dwarf toad

dwarf toad

We were there for the WALK.

Yes, a night walk! What a fascinating idea, right? That attracted me to the gathering in the first place.

Nic and I were in the first group and we strolled, not knowing what to look for. The rest were true nature lovers – they came with powerful torches to shine into the big leafy trees. Mrs Hum told me we were looking for the reflective shine of the eyes of creatures such as owls. She described seeing a pair of owls nesting in the garden.

Being the first-timers that we were (and the urban creatures that I am), we didn’t spot anything. The veteran members were the ones who spotted everything – from frogs in the drains and ponds to owl and colugos in the trees! And they go to extremes to take that snapshot of the animals.

But the night walk was so amazing because when the night’s quiet and there are no joggers in the garden, it’s special.

It’s special and fascinating when the garden is shrouded in darkness and finally I got to listen to tiny frogs making big noises, watch termites busily going somewhere on the cannonball tree and really look at the tadpoles in the pond. The night was not totally dark as my eyes grew accustomed to the night and I saw shapes of trees and saw a bright night sky above.

I was also in awe of the water system in the garden especially when we decided to walk up to the reservoir and Tajul regaled us with stories of the clever British who dug special underground ducts for irrigating the garden.

What a lovely way to spend a Saturday night!

By the way, the amazing animal photos are not taken by me. They are courtesy of Oo Choo Yee and Dr Khaw Chun Sien.

Oh yes, tomorrow is Car Free Day while on Saturday night you are supposed to join the movement to switch off your lights for an hour between 8.30pm to 9.30pm. While some critics call this hypocritical, I always think that any little support and contribution we do to raise awareness is better than none at all. Starting small is nothing be ashamed of, it’s doing NOTHING that kills us all. I know for some people that it is virtually impossible to NOT use their car for a whole day tomorrow but how about switching off your lights on Saturday? At least you can enjoy what darkness is all about.

If Your Cat Is Your Master, Read On….

Got your attention didn’t I?

Well, really, I always feels that Margaret is my master more than I am hers.

Because I feed her, I clean her poop and I make sure she is comfy and happy. And I tickle her chin, scratch her fat belly and play ‘catch my feet’ games with her.

I wonder sometimes who owns who because our cat seems to think we’re her slaves the moment we come home. Or the moment she thinks we’re going out (she knows when we get all dressed up!) and she starts her continuous mewing until you give her food – half a cup of Friskies – and then she becomes quiet.

Anyway, Siew Yean who is the volunteer webmaster of the Penang SPCA website emailed in this and my blog is rather like a public service announcement place so I’ve put it here.

A photo contest is being held for March and you can send in your gorgeous dog or snobbish cat poses. More details of this contest is at the SPCA website.

Oh yeah, hurry coz it ends 31 March 2009.

Nigella’s Easy Cup cake Recipe

These days, I’ve come to the point where I have quit buying recipe books. Not because of the economy (hell, good or bad economy, I must have my books). Not because I am running out of shelf space for all my recipe books, Flavours magazines and crochet/knit books.

I got fed-up coz sometimes recipes from books don’t turn out that great.

That’s why I always scout about for recipes especially tried-and-tested ones.

Last week, I was channel-surfing and chanced upon a repeat of Nigella Lawson’s show. Besides her incredibly sexy (buxomy) look, this woman can cook. And she makes it so easy that everyone wants to don an apron and be the domestic goddess.

Nigella Lawson's super simple cup cake recipe

Nigella Lawson's super simple cup cake recipe

She shared a cupcake recipe during that show and I jotted down the ingredients. This is a food processor recipe which means if you have one, it’s faster to make. I don’t so I have to go the usual way – use the electric mixer but even so, this cupcake recipe takes less than 20 minutes to mix up. (I know, I usually preheat my oven for 20 minutes and when the beeper rings, I’m usually done with my batter.)

This recipe makes 12 cup cakes.

Batter mixing time: 10 mins
Baking time per tray of 6 cup cakes: 15-20 mins at 160 degree Centigrade

Nigella Lawson’s Cup Cake Recipe

125 gm butter (I use Anchor)
125 gm sugar
125 gm plain flour (mixed with 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsp milk (I use powdered milk mixed with some water)
12 cup cake casings
Optional – raisins, choc chips

First, cream butter and sugar. Make sure butter is soft so you spend less time creaming it. Once this mixture becomes fluffy and pale yellow, add in eggs, one at a time. Mix well (I use the electric mixer throughout). Then add vanilla essence. Add in half the flour. Then add some milk. Put in remaining flour and milk and mix on medium speed till all combined.

You can now add raisins or choc chips if you want or you can leave it plain (and make your own butter cream or frosting for the cup cakes).

Fill cup cake casings about 3/4 with batter each. The batter will be enough for 12 casings.

Bake in a 160 degree Centigrade oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until a skewer poked into the cake comes out clean. (Pre-heat oven for 20 minutes before you start mixing your cake batter)

That’s it! And I’ve baked these twice already and both times turned out well. They’re moist, not too sweet and with a rich buttery taste.

I am a cup cake monster…like Cookie Monster
If you want to make more, just double up the ingredients. Say if you want to make 24 cup cakes, then you need twice as much of everything (4 eggs, 250 gm butter, 250 flour, etc).

If you have a food processor, the method is the same. Put butter and sugar and whiz, then eggs, then vanilla then flour then milk and flour again.

More helpful recipe posts:
Best banana cake ever
Making bread tips
Or how to take the easy way out and order from a good baker

Buy Muffins and Help A Girl Do Good

I got the below email from Swee Yong who is one of the most helpful and kindest people I know. It was a forward based on an email sent by her friend, Beng Choo.

The gist is this, Beng Choo’s niece, Mindy, is going to bake muffins to sell. The proceeds will be channelled to a children’s home. So you can help her (Mindy’s on her semester break now so she’s only doing this until 19 March 2009, so hurry and order if you want to do good and eat some nice muffins baked with love).

You can order the muffins (RM8 per box of 4 muffins) by emailing: leeeh6 [at] tm.net.my.

Anyway, read Beng Choo’s email to find out more:

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Hi, I hope this e-mail finds you well and happy…..

My niece, Mindy, is having 3 weeks semester break. She wanted to come to my house to bake muffins, sell them and donate all the profits to children’s home. I am deeply touched by her noble intentions and have not only act as her sifu in making the muffin but also assisting her in the marketing and financial aspect such as costing and sourcing of ingredients.

Back to the muffin biz., we started selling the muffins today and have received more orders for next week. We will be making till Mar 19 as I will be going for a Kundalini Yoga Retreat in Pangkor from 20 to 22 March and Mindy will be going back to college on March 23.

We will deliver to your office if there is a minimum order of 8 boxes. Each box of 4 delicious muffin only cost RM8 but you can always pay more and we will channeled all the extra proceeds plus all our profits to the children’s home.

We take great pride in baking the most wholesome yet yummy muffin which have always been a hit with all our regular customers every time we make to sell for charity over the years. Some of the ingredients we used to make the muffins are organic while others though not organic are of premium quality such as California walnuts and raisins. We used pure butter and not margarine. We also used the best banana …..”pisang raja” which is more costly but is the best when it comes to baking cakes and muffins.

So you can enjoy muffin which is not only delicious but full of goodness and do charity at the same time….Call or SMS or e-mail me to order. If you would like us to send to a friend or a charitable organization such as a children’s home or a senior citizens home, we will be please to do so on your behalf. Thank you.

Be peaceful, well and happy always,
Beng Choo

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Update from Beng Choo, Mindy’s aunt today (12 March 2009): Thanks for all your support. We received overwhelming response for the muffins and have been baking for 4-5 hours almost daily starting last week. The total orders received so far will keep us busy every day till the last day of our planned final baking day viz next Thursday, Mar 19. Therefore, we have to stop taking orders effective from now. Again thank you very much for all your support and making Mindy’s dream a reality. We will keep you posted on the final profit we make from this project and the various homes we donated the proceeds to. With gratitude, Beng Choo

Vote for Your Fave Sarawak Laksa Now

Now is your chance to make your favourite sarawak laksa stall in Kuching become famous.

Just got news from Stefania and Barrett, the husband and wife team and who are our clients that her cafe was one of those visited by the Sarawak Tourism Board (with a bevy of Singaporeans in tow) during the preliminary look-see for the upcoming Sarawak Laksa Escapade Tour.

She’s pretty excited and I can understand why. If shortlisted, they will be featured in a Singaporean foodie programme.

Sarawakians and non-Sarawakians are mad over their fave sarawak laksa and everyone has their fave stall in Kuching.

So if you want your stall to matter and win, be kiasu and go email in your suggestions.

All you need to do is email the stall’s name, full address and contact number (if available) to Sarawak Tourism Board by March 10. Email all your suggestions to letitia@sarawaktourism.com

Once shortlisted, these stalls will be visited by Singapore’s food ambassador Moses Lim when he arrives for the Sarawak Laksa Escapade Tour.

Check out The Borneo Post about this unique Sarawak Laksa Escapade Tour.

Helpful articles:
1.How to cook your own sarawak laksa at home
2. Snacks and food in Kuching

Catch Ombak Ombak Studio in Gurney

A quick heads up that Ombak Ombak Studio will be performing at Gurney Plaza this weekend. Lots of things are actually happening this weekend – this dance performance in conjunction with Hari Wanita, then the Pakatan Rakyat gathering on Esplanade and then of course, all these happening because it’s going to be a long weekend (Monday is a public holiday in case you didn’t know!).

Dance by Ombak Ombak Studio

Dance by Ombak Ombak Studio

What The Judge Is Looking For In Your Short Story

If you don’t know yet (gosh where have you been?) there’s an ongoing short story writing competition organised by MPH. If you know about it, you will surely know that the deadline for submission is 31 March 2009.

I got to know of this through Derek (as always, the footie fan keeps me updated on movies and books and now, writing competitions).

Derek is always urging, no, egging me to write that fabulous story of all time. Derek dear boy, I am on a race to find that bloody muse of mine. I don’t know if she’s gone for good or if she only re-appears when it is 2 days to the deadline. Somehow, if I haven’t thanked you, I thank you (Derek, not the muse) for somehow egging me along on my writing adventure.

I don’t know what’s worse – not finding my muse OR finding out that my ex-creative writing lecturer (and present client) is going to be one of the judges of the MPH Alliance National Short Story Competition!

Robert Raymer (of the Lovers and Strangers Revisited fame) will be one of those people judging the submissions! Arrrrrgh.

But he does give a lot of clues as to what sort of stories he is looking for. The kind of best-of-the-best stories. Not soppy. Not cliched. Not rehashed from movies we like. Not set in Paris or LA. Not another drama of Wah Lai Toi.

If you are in Sarawak or Miri to be precise, you can ask Robert all the silly questions of writing as he’s going to hold a workshop on 8 March. Lucky you.

Or hop over to his blog and fire away.

It’s a lovely long post on what judges are really looking for in a damn fine story but Robert tells it best. Plus the downloadable entry form is also on his blog.

How to get a scholarship

Dear friends,

Mensa Penang will be organising a talk on “How to get a scholarship to study in the USA” by Mr Yeoh Chen Chow on 7th March, 2.30 pm at the Caring Society Complex, Jalan Utama. RM10 per person (inclusive of refreshments).

Email (info@mensapenang.org) to register as seats are limited.

Highly suitable for students who are currently in Form 4 and Form 5.

Please help forward and spread the word about this excellent speaker (Mr Yeoh) who is the head interviewer in Malaysia for Cornell University (USA) and who is himself a JPA scholarship recipient many years ago.

He gave a similar talk last year to a full house of parents and students. This year he is back again (he is based in KL so this is really a great opportunity to hear him give tips on what to do to apply for scholarships!)