The Malaysian In Me

Many, many times I catch myself saying – “I am so grateful to be living in Penang!”

You see, this is a fab place. And more often that not, we islanders forget we’re on an island. A sunny one.

A friend who called from Melbourne said she was wrapped up in 3 layers of clothes because it was super cold now. Another friend who lives in Newfoundland told me it was snowing in May over there.

And I don’t have to listen to the weather report before I leave the house.

I don’t have to carry a coat or umbrella just in case the weather turns nasty and cold or rainy.

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Say It Forward

This is an article written by a good friend. He chooses to remain anonymous. Feel free to share this if it tugs at your conscience.

With a few days to go before the nation goes to the polls in what would be the closest, most keenly fought battle between the the ruling party and the opposition ever, one wonders what could still be done to ensure that the whole process of the elections would be carried out in a clean and fair manner.

What could still be done to ensure that the elections truly enables the nation to choose leaders who will truly govern the country with democracy, justice, equality and integrity?

What could still be done to rid this country of all its maladies, namely the malady of corruption, the malady of racism, the malady of injustice, the malady of poverty and marginalization of the poor and the voiceless?

What could still be done despite the biased mainstream media, the maleficence spewed by many of the candidates and personalities linked to the powers that be (perhaps not for long) causing some of the rakyat to fear, to waver, to doubt what they already, obviously and intrinsically know to be the truth and nothing but the truth?

What could still be done to ensure that we are not going to be frustrated for the next five years, that we are not going to be grumbling during our teh-tarik sessions or any where else, about the leaders who continue to amass great fortunes at the expense of the quality of life every Malaysian deserves?

What could still be done by us, true, loyal , peace loving, honourable and good hearted Malaysians?

While the candidates and their respective parties are giving all they can in the run up to the elections, many of us I believe are also contributing in many ways. Some of us have become polling agents, joined groups and NGOs monitoring the authenticity of the whole process, helping out at the various bilik-bilik gerakan, attending ceramahs, writing in news portals and blogs and giving our time and energy in various ways and even our money.

What could still be done?

Some of us may have heard of the concept – “pay it forward”. It’s a philosophy asking the beneficiary of a good deed to repay it to others instead of to the original benefactor. The concept is old, but the phrase may have been coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book In the Garden of Delight.

Pay It Forward is also a 2000 American drama film based on the novel of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. It was directed by Mimi Leder and written by Leslie Dixon. It stars Haley Joel Osment as a boy who launches a good-will movement, Helen Hunt as his single mother, and Kevin Spacey as his social-studies teacher.

When eleven and a half year old Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) begins seventh grade in Las Vegas, Nevada, his social studies teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey) gives the class an assignment to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world for the better. Trevor’s plan is a charitable programme based on the networking of good deeds.

He calls his plan “Pay It Forward”, which means the recipient of a favour does a favour for three others rather than paying the favour back. However, it needs to be a major favour that the receivers cannot complete themselves.

Trevor does a favour for three people, asking each of them to “pay the favour forward” by doing favours for three other people, and so on, along a branching tree of good deeds.

Based on this same concept, I would like to answer the question…WHAT COULD STILL BE DONE?

The answer: SAY IT FORWARD!

We have been enlightened by the right spirit and right information and right motivation with regard to what we want for our country, not just for ourselves and our loved ones but for all. And we need to pass this to others and this process would be more effective than any web portal, twitter, email, sms, ceramah , press conference….

We need to SAY IT FORWARD. We have been enlightened, and it is imperative that we enlighten others, especially those who may be in the dark through no fault of theirs. So could I suggest that each of us choose to talk to 3 persons (face to face) who we think will benefit from this endeavour explaining to them the importance to come out to vote and to vote for the candidate and party based on all the right reasons.

We could help dispel all the fears that have plagued and paralysed many a good Malaysian, with all the facts and figures we can obtain. And most importantly we could share with them our passion and hope for a better and greater Malaysia. And when we have done that, we could convince them to share all that we had articulated with 3 others explaining this simple concept of saying it forward, encouraging and inspiring them to continue this process.

The time is now, we have a few days but much can be achieved, so lets begin this process…I believe it can work.

LET’S SAY IT FORWARD!

If  you’ve been moved by this article, please share this out with friends and family.

Ini Kali Lah

If you read my blog closely, you know I am highly opinionated. I have raised some ire in the past with my strongly worded blog posts. I have been naughty like that.

But it isn’t just about being naughty. Or wanting to be controversial. If you know me really well, I am a bit of an introvert.

I am shy. I still am shy. But sometimes I cannot be shy about things I care about.

My country, for instance. And that is why I have been feverishly excited about this Sunday.

Nic wearing his Ubah hat at Wisma DAP
Nic wearing his Ubah hat at Wisma DAP

Sure, it’s the day we Malaysians go out in droves to vote. I’ve  voted twice. But there has been NOTHING like this 13th General Elections. Nothing so electrifying, nothing so powerful and inspiring.

I decided to walk my talk by signing up as a Polling Agent and Counting Agent (PACA) under PKR. However I am told I am the backup of the backup. Which means my service to my nation may not be needed.

Still, there’s something unequivocally powerful about signing the pink form. (I told the PKR guy that everyone should undergo PACA training because it’s educational even if they never become PA or CA. It clues people, especially first time voters, on what they should do and their rights as voters.)

I was there on 6 March 2008 (celebrated my birthday by attending a DAP ceramah and sitting on the field of Han Chiang School) and I remembered the first SMS I got from my friend CC the moment Pakatan won Penang on 8 March 2008 – “How’s Penang? Are there any riots?”

I smile at that memory because everyone elsewhere was so excited for Penang and DAP’s tsunamic win. That was sweet victory. When the horse you back wins, you win too.

We all won in Penang. We won a better Government of the day.

Nic with his hero DAP's Hew Kuan Yau aka Superman
Nic with his hero DAP's Hew Kuan Yau aka Superman

Is it perfect? No. I still think some of those involved should take some public speaking lessons. Some of them make me cringe when they open their mouths to speak. Those who are excellent are truly excellent. Like Jeff Ooi for example. His BM is as good as any Malay! And he can speak in English and Mandarin too.

What I do know is this, they try. They try to make things better. They sometimes make mistakes.

Do I agree with everything? No. If I did, I’d be a puppet. I’m not a blind follower. I know that 56 years of rubbish can be hard to undo. So let’s be patient while they learn the ropes in becoming a good government. At the very least, they know we hold them to higher standards.

With a tonne of Penangites at the mega ceramah at Han Chiang School
With a tonne of Penangites at the mega ceramah at Han Chiang School

And despite the crap you hear, read and see fron BN running down Pakatan and DAP, I say this – everyone I know who’s either visited or lived in Penang will admit, Penang is much cleaner now.

A Singaporean friend who is married to a local says that she can see the difference. Her mom who visits yearly from Singapore can also see the difference.

Plus I am infinitely proud that Penangites are getting greener day by day. Ours is the first state to have the guts to ban polystyrene and plastic bags. We’re so used to carrying our own shopping bags whenever we go shopping or buying food using our own stainless steel tiffin carriers. And recycling has become a way of life for Nic and me. We save up bits of paper and plastic and send them for recycling at our neighbourhood Buddhist Tzu Chi Recycling Centre. To date, we’ve composted every bit of edible we use in our kitchen. I throw out only 1 bag of rubbish per month!

That’s not all.

For the past 5 years, I’ve been in direct contact with my DUN for Pantai Jerejak, Sim Tze Tzin. I have his phone number, I can tweet him, I can call and ask him any question.

This time Sim is running for a Parlimentary seat and I fully support him because he’s not just someone I can get easily if I have an issue, I know him to be an honest guy and someone who can represent us all when it matters.

People power at Pakatan Rakyat's Penang ceramah
People power at Pakatan Rakyat's Penang ceramah

A couple of years ago when I lived in Bukit Gambir, there was this BN guy whose face you’d see plastered on billboards but you’d never see him in real life. It’s as if he avoids his constituency like the plague! How do you serve the rakyat when you’re never communicating with the rakyat? How do you show concern and care when you’re hardly around? Or are you too busy hobnobbing with your bigshot MCA friends to care?

I’ve spoken to Sim, I’ve seen him at our Taman events, I’ve seen him take that “I’m-a-regular-guy” approach and that’s what we all want our leaders to do, right? Not drive by in flashy cars with tinted glass. Not see you once in 5 years to shake your hands and say, “Vote for me please”. I don’t need leaders like that. Speaking of which, I tell Nic that if I see that MCA guy Wong Mun Hoe coming around to Taman Sri Nibong, I’ll ask him some questions. Some really tough ones.

Unfortunately until today (which is about 3 days more to the Big Day), I haven’t seen the likes of him! But his face is on the big billboards around our Taman. How can you bloody expect people to vote for you when you don’t even turn up to give a ceramah and show us what makes you different? Though given the lousy leadership of MCA right now, Wong may be hardworking and good but it won’t make a difference. Look what happened to Ong Tee Keat!

(UPDATE: BN did manage to turn up last night and set up its ceramah tent at the basketball court in Taman Sri Nibong. Unfortunately only a handful of people turned up! And it ended in an hour. Bah. And Wong Mun Hoe talked about his own sob story of how he went back to do his MBA when he lost in 2008. How do I know? I sent Nic to spy on the event hahaha.)

A sea of Malaysians waiting for true change
A sea of Malaysians waiting for true change

But what really warms my heart is this: when I see Chinese uncles carrying PAS flags and Malay girls waving DAP flags. During the massive mega ceramah at the Penang Esplanade some two weeks ago, it was like a carnival! Chinese folks were buying PAS flags!

This is incredible given that PAS has always been a bit of a thorny issue for Chinese. PAS is that last frontier that we have to cross. When we can accept and overcome that psychological fear, there’s really nothing to fear. If you can face your mambang(s) head on, when you can stare Disgusting Old Fear in the eyes and spit between those slimy eyes, you can do anything. That spirit of oneness is the biggest fear of the current ruling coalition. They can spout stupid 1Malaysia slogans but they can NEVER achieve the real one-ness that comes from the real hearts of Malaysians.

That’s why they need to spend millions on Youtube adverts, sponsored posts and sponsored stories, text messages, billboards, blue flags, free Vietnamese beers, free buffet dinners, lucky draws, concerts and more.

The blatant in-your-face money politics and media bias make us all mad. So yeah, the more blue flags you stick on the ground, the more reasons I have to despise people who spend the rakyat’s money like water.

I don’t really care much for those who support BN. I don’t know why people who are supposedly smart can support racism, cronyism and corruption. I despise deeply that logic that if you don’t like Malaysia you can go back to China or India. Only the very lamest people can use this line of argument. And like Datuk Ambiga says when someone yelled at her to “go home”, she didn’t miss a beat when she retorted, “I am home!”

But I say this, and I say this loudly, if you have a conscience, if you have kids, if you have an iota of true Malaysian spirit in you, you will know who you’ll vote for this coming Sunday.

P/S: I am hoping to pop some champagne on Sunday night – so really, cross our fingers and let’s vote for real change!

A Matriarch’s Cuisine of Love

It’s only when guests or friends come to Penang that I make that mad effort to find new places to dine. Most times, we’re lazy and eat around our area which to me is rather sad and boring. I mean, how many times can you eat “chee cheong fun” for breakfast before you kind of roll your eyes and wish this dish was never invented?

Little Kitchen, Noordin Street, George Town
Little Kitchen, 179, Noordin Street, George Town, Penang

My area, Taman Sri Nibong, isn’t exactly crawling with lots of eateries.

So it gets fun when guests arrive. A few days ago, Nic and his Mensa Penang friends hosted Patrick, a fellow Mensan from Hong Kong.

It was Patrick’s first time in Penang. We thought it would be fun to take him to a Nyonya restaurant in George Town. But where? Nic’s favourite Nyonya restaurant, Hot Wok, had closed down about 2 years ago so there went the first choice on our list. Nyonya Breeze in Straits Quay was a little too modern for my taste, at least for this round.

I quickly scanned CK Lam’s food blog and found an interesting one. “Let’s take him there,” I enthused to Nic.

That’s how we ended circling Noordin Street three times before we finally found a parking spot near Hotel Grand Continental. The hotel was just one street after the Nyonya restaurant called Little Kitchen @ Nyonya. Don’t ask why it’s so oddly named.

Conceptually the restaurant was interesting. It is a Straits Chinese shop house some 135 feet long which belonged to a 4th generation Straits Chinese family. They still reside on the first floor. This family runs the Nyonya restaurant with the matriarch as the head chef! (She was this smiley Auntie in her 70s.)

Ulam appetizer with two types of sambal belacan
Ulam appetizer with two types of sambal belacan

So what’s unique about this place? Plenty of character I can tell you.

The main business (yes, the Nyonya food isn’t the main business and I will tell you why in a bit) is their birds’ nest business.

This family trades birds’ nests – the kind that most Chinese elders will give an arm and a leg and two best jade bangles for. So you can actually buy the birds’ nests in dried form from them or pre-order and have them double-boil the birds’ nest dessert for you (available for dine-in or take-away).

So the Nyonya food is more like a hobby for this family.

Nic and our Hong Kong Mensa friend, Patrick
Nic and our Hong Kong Mensa friend, Patrick

This we found out from the Auntie’s son – a chatty guy in his 50s. He must be recounting the history of the 7 year old restaurant to so many customers that the stories simply flowed out easily. And he is a veritable trove of birds’ nest facts, trivia and how the Chinese grew so mad over drinking and eating birds’ nest. The other way to locate this restaurant is to look for “Birds Nest Heaven” – the alternate name of the shop.

An array of Nyonya kuih to whet the appetite
An array of Nyonya kuih to whet the appetite

Anyway, he said that his family really didn’t need to run a Nyonya cuisine restaurant. His grandfather and father had done well for themselves back in those days of trading that the family was well set for life.

The only thing was, with his father’s demise some 10 years ago, his mother felt an inexplicable sense of loss. You see, in those days, his mother cooked every day for his family. Specifically his father never had to eat out. He had breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared lovingly by his wife.

Plus as her children had grown up, they ate out more than they ate in. Hence, the matriarch felt abandoned – no one appreciated her cooking any more.

So the children got together and hatched a plan to keep dear old Mum happy and cooking up all her favourite Nyonya dishes.

That was how Little Kitchen was born or at least that’s how Mr Loh, the son, tells it.

The second hall where we dined
The second hall where we dined

When you step into the restaurant, it does feel like you’re dining in someone’s home. We were ushered to the second hall which had an air well.

What I liked was that we were served tiny slices of Nyonya kuih as well as raw sliced cucumber, baby brinjal and four-angled beans with sambal belacan as appetizers.

The other unique feature is that all drinks were free flow – nutmeg, ginger, Chinese tea and plain water. These were in traditional hot water flasks and you could drink all you wanted for RM4 per person. Funny how free flow of drinks could make me so delirious!

Free flow of nutmeg, ginger, Chinese tea and plain water in Chinese flasks
Free flow of nutmeg, ginger, Chinese tea and plain water in Chinese flasks

The food portions weren’t exactly large although they were tasty and had a true home-cooked feel. We ordered pig stomach soup with gingko nuts (although it had Szechuan vegetable too which is a first time tasting this vegetable in a pig stomach soup), fried paku or fern shoots in sambal hae-bee, sliced pork with cincalok, mixed vegetables, acar fish and asam prawns.

Mother-of-pearl day bed, one of the antiques in the restaurant
Mother-of-pearl day bed, one of the antiques in the restaurant

Later the affable owner came around to explain why his dishes were small in portion and a tad more pricey than most. Then again, he did say he was “rather choosy with his clientele” preferring those who could appreciate the food and not just bus-loads of tourists who eat and leave.  Not that his place could accommodate bus-loads. At most there were 6 to 7 tables.

Mixed vegetable stir-fry and pork cincalok
Mixed vegetable stir-fry and pork cincalok

As someone who goes to the wet market (yes, I do cook), I know how pricey fish, pork, chicken and vegetables cost these days.

Anyway he justified it by saying that his mom insists on the best cincalok, the freshest ingredients and all so these add up. Plus he served us on true-blue possibly heirloom/antique porcelain plates – perhaps harking back to the days when his grandfather used to run a restaurant on No.7, Leith Street!  (Upon looking under the plates, Patrick says that they were from Jingdezhen, a city in China famous for its fine quality chinaware!)

Look at the original floor tiles so telling of a Penang Nyonya shophouse
Look at the original floor tiles so telling of a Penang Nyonya shophouse

Dining at Little Kitchen was an experience that wasn’t just about the Nyonya cuisine and food tales.

Sure the food’s on the pricey side (the bill came up to RM208 for the five of us, plus drinks and 2 bowls of black glutinous rice dessert) and it wasn’t classy like some of the newer establishments. (This is Ji Tiao Lor after all.)

Labelled herbs in pots to show you what's used in Nyonya cooking
Labelled herbs in pots to show you what's used in Nyonya cooking

Yet in its homely way it was charmingly Chinese – much like dining at your favourite aunt’s home.

Whatever it was, I left feeling satisfied and perhaps made a mental note to revisit, if only for the unique tale it has to tell.

Colourful pickles in jars
Colourful pickles in jars

When Your Trash Saves Lives

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

While I try to have a variety of topics in our business blog, I am also that anal sort (yes, slap me) who wants a blog post that is befitting of a business blog, one that’s thoughtful and not written just because I have to spit something out on the blog.

That is certainly not my style.

Which is why sometimes, just sometimes, I have too many things and topics to write about but not enough time to do so. Ah… the bane of 21st century living!

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
A separate kitchen/pantry for volunteers to take a rest and have a snack or tea

But this blog allows me to ramble along – knowing that friends like you will forgive me if I ramble too much and get too “cheong hei”.

A few months ago, our  Taman Sri Nibong Residents’ Association hosted a short briefing by at the clubhouse for the volunteers of The Buddhist Tzu-Chi Merits Society.

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
A bunch of us from Taman Sri Nibong visited to get a better idea what the centre does

To cut a long story short, the Tzu-Chi folks are proposing to convert an old, abandoned food court in our taman into a recycling waste sorting centre. It is by no means an easy or cheap endeavour.

It means taking up the entire food court area of 10,000 square feet and doing what’s needed to make it into a place where residents can come, drop off their recyclables and get an education about reducing the wastefulness of our daily lives.

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
Different categories of recyclables waiting for manual processing

And they need to pay a fee to MPPP to use this abandoned food court.

Now what’s interesting is this – the money generated from recycling will be used to fund the Tzu-Chi Dialysis Centres (they have one in Gottlieb Road and another in Butterworth and they have plans to build another centre by next year). Tzu-Chi Dialysis centres are free for kidney patients. Yes, that’s right. Free.

Recycling areas clearly labelled
Recycling areas clearly labelled

Like all communities, you will get people who are downright rude and negative about change. Any change.

Anything is to be feared even before they hear why it’s needed.

The thing that plays in their heads is that tune they choose to hear.

Volunteers comprising elderly folks sorting out the different papers
Volunteers comprising elderly folks sorting out the different papers

And funnily, even another well-known social organization started joining the fray, saying that THEY should be given the priority to manage and turn the the abandoned food court into a library and community centre.

This organization which shall be unnamed (because it will certainly shame some people who’ve always associated this organization with good community work) had the cheek to say that they want to give back to the community here. They had 2 years to raise the funds to do something but never did. Not until Tzu-Chi came along and said they wanted to do something. All of a sudden, this other group felt threatened!

The recycling centre brings senior citizens together to contribute to their community
The recycling centre brings senior citizens together to contribute to their community

Anyway, I think many of them felt afraid that a Buddhist a.k.a religious group was coming into Taman Sri Nibong. All the silly comments from some residents just makes me feel that religion makes us all suspicious of each other.

Donated computers and monitors to be refurbished and shipped to Myanmar for a second lease of life
Donated computers and monitors to be refurbished and shipped to Myanmar for a second lease of life

That aside, Nic and I had to go see for ourselves a real working Tzu-Chi recycling centre in Taman Lumba Kuda. A bunch of us residents turned up on a Saturday afternoon to listen and understand how the recycling centre handles its waste as well as re-educate the people about recycling.

A thriving garden in the Tzu Chi recycling centre
A thriving garden in the Tzu Chi recycling centre

We saw a pleasant, quiet and green environment where volunteers silently sorted out the different piles of recyclables. Even with the paper category, there’s white paper and coloured paper. Above all, it was clean.

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
Another angle of the garden

They even grew a garden around the recycling centre. It resembled quiet, restive area for communities to mingle, talk to each other and help sort and re-bundle trash.

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
Here's a water garden!

They even accept old PCs and clothes. The PCs will be refurbished and sent to Myanmar. Many internal parts of the PC can be reused.

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
Vegetable garden within the Tzu Chi recycling centre

The key to Tzu-Chi is education. They start with cultivating that spirit in all that they do. And unlike most Chinese organizations, theirs is done with style. Have you noticed how beautifully elegant Tzu Chi books and packaging are?  I am often delighted at their products because they do pay attention to design.

[Update: Here’s something to cheer about. After all the hullabaloo, Tzu-Chi managed to get approval from MPPP and the relevant authorities to rent and convert the old Medan Selera into its recycling centre. They fenced it up  and by 18 November (yes, this Sunday), the Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre in Taman Sri Nibong will be operational. Please support this centre with your recyclables.]

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
What you cannot recycle!

All You Need is Belief…and Hope

I’m a big softie.

Actually so’s Nic.

Whenever we hear stories of underprivileged kids, we get pensive.

I was at House of Hope on Saturday with the gals from my WomenBizSENSE group to do our yearly community project. Each year we pick a home to visit. It so happens that this year, we decided to visit House of Hope again.

House of Hope gives children a chance at their future
House of Hope gives children a chance at their future

House of  Hope isn’t an orphanage. It’s a drop-in centre for the kids who live in the Rifle Range area of Air Itam. It also feeds the elderly (they come in with their tiffin carriers to bring cooked food home).

It’s open all week, from 9am to 5pm.

For those not familiar with Penang, Rifle Range was one of the earliest low-cost flats catering to the working class.

House of Hope toy library for play therapy
The toy library with contributed toys

I was there early so I spoke to Olivia, one of the directors. This amiable woman showed me around, explaining what they did.

House of Hope computer room
The computer room with computers contributed by well-wishers.

The first floor has a toy library, a computer room (with old donated PCs) and a therapy room.

House of Hope kids enjoying their lunch
Never knew a burger could mean so much!

“Why therapy?” I ask.

Some of the children have been abused and a therapist comes in regularly to help them. They engage in art to express their feelings. I saw some of the artwork when I was at the House of Hope charity lunch at Parkroyal Hotel about three weeks ago.

The children who did manage to express themselves often drew in dark, sombre colours. One drew himself perched off a tall building, almost at the verge of jumping off. Many of them are poor, with one parent either in prison or come from broken families. Many of their parents are single parents, ekeing out a living by working shifts hence they are not home all day.

Downstairs houses a large space for group activities and a tiny art room. The kids, she tells me, love doing colouring and making handicrafts. They often squeeze into the tiny air-conditioned room. They’re also teaching the children how to grow vegetables like okra.

Okra plants
House of Hope is experimenting by growing vegetables - teaching the kids as well as hopefully giving the adults a chance at supplementing their incomes

“The kids don’t want to go home in the evenings. They still hang around even when we close the centre at 5pm.”

She said that it was very good of us to get McDonalds to sponsor burgers for the kids that Saturday. They had often written to McDonalds but never got any reply.

House of Hope Penang kids
Children will be children...at times boisterous, eager to play and happy for simple things

“Sometimes I pity them. I take them out for dinner before I go home. But sometimes there are like 9 kids in my car. I can’t buy them burgers all the time.”

In fact, she gives them a simple dinner, sometimes roti canai, sometimes rice with dishes. And with plain water. They know they cannot order soft drinks or cold drinks.

They’re happy even with such simple food.

Some of them, says Olivia, don’t dare to go home to an empty flat. There’s nothing to eat at home. They don’t even have a fridge!

Some go to school hungry.

Thank God they can have a meal when they get to House of Hope after school.

I nodded. It takes perspective like this to realize how fortunate I am. I don’t much fancy burgers unless I have nothing to eat. And here are kids whose parents are too poor to buy them food, not to mention fastfood.

A teenage girl of about 16 I spoke to later told me she liked KFC. Her father left the family while her mom, a dialysis patient, struggled to support the 4 siblings on welfare money. This family of four girls and their mom really made me stop and think.

The four of them regularly come to House of Hope.

I asked if she lived in Rifle Range.

House of Hope kids
These two girls were very cute!

She was politely shy, shaking her head as her huge eyes stared back at me.

“We took the bus. About 20 minutes. Not far from here.”

Her youngest sister, Mages, was 10 going on 11. She was lively and cheerful, smiling each time I asked her a question.

When we asked what she wanted to be when she grows up, she softly whispers – “Doctor”.

I ask if she’s afraid of blood. She shakes her head while her eldest sister smiles.

And what do you want to be, oh eldest sister? The lanky girl in her white punjabi suit says she has dreams to be an aeronautical engineer.

Jo and I smile. We tell them that anything is possible.

Anything is achievable. You just have to believe and have someone believe in you.

Isn’t that so?

Note: If you want to donate to help or sponsor a family or even a child, you can do so here. It can be as little as RM50 per month to give a child some pocket money to go to school with, and to be taken to school in a school bus.

Homegrown Heroines

You know me.

Despite my gregarious and oftentimes open personality, I am really shy.

Penelope Cruz on Sept issue of The Malaysian Women's Weekly
Penelope Cruz on Sept issue of The Malaysian Women's Weekly

I was an excruciatingly shy girl while growing up. The only way I shone was through my academic results. Even so, my pride is often mixed with a kind of shyness.

I don’t know how to react when the spotlight is on me.

Crazy as it sounds, yes, that is me.

But I have no problem shining the spotlight on people. In fact, I love doing that.

So where’s this post going? I interviewed Alex many moons ago for our business blog and I thought that was that.

It was not to be.

She came back to me a few weeks after that, asking to interview little old me!

She was doing a feature on 3 Malaysian women who were “women with heart” and one of them was to be me.

Oh gosh!

It was a little follow up to find out what the women of the Great Women Of Our Time Awards were doing after getting nominated for the award. (My claim to fame was in 2008 and if you missed that post, you can check out the glamour me four years ago. I had so much fun during the photo shoot in The Westin KL and the glamorous gala dinner where Ning Baizura sang and I was all goggle-eyed.)

I was in superb company in this September 2012 issue of The Malaysian Women’s Weekly – there I was with Bilqis Hijjas (the president of MyDance Alliance) and Leela Panikkar (co-founder of Treat Every Environment Special or TrEES).

Krista Goon featured in the magazine

Here’s an even funnier aside: two months ago, a local Chinese newspaper (Guang Ming Daily) here in Penang decided to interview me and a few ladies from my women entrepreneur group. It was supposed to be published before our anniversary luncheon happened but you know, you can’t rush the media.

They have their own deadlines. So when the feature on WomenBizSENSE finally got published in its entire full page glory, we were mighty pleased BUT none of us (with the exception of Cecilia) could read Mandarin. That was all of one day’s happiness – great publicity for us as a group and great publicity for us individually.

A few weeks later, there I am in my tatty shorts and grungy t-shirt buying vegetables in the Lip Sin market when the auntie who sells vegetables told me she read the interview in Guang Ming!

Her daughter-in-law mentioned that her mom-in-law (this vegetable auntie) recognized my photo in that article! I must say this lady’s eyes are sharp.

However, being in the media has its cons too. The day our feature came out in Guang Ming was the day a woman from Sungai Petani called me asking for a loan. It seemed she read about our women entrepreneur group and thought we’d be easy suckers!

She gave me some strange tale of being broke, having two kids in college and get this – the Ah Long were chasing her to repay her loan and could we or our group loan her some money?

Wow.

She kept calling me until I told her that we don’t give loans and I would get her the number of a local ADUN help centre so she could get proper help. She stopped calling after that!

That was the only weird incident.

Most times, the publicity has been great and allowed me to get slightly known. I’ve always been grateful for the media limelight (many thanks to writer friends like Alex and more) because media exposure always helps promote and publicize our business!

Above All, Have Faith

The past few weeks were rather busy for me since I was roped into planning our women entrepreneurs’ group luncheon to celebrate our 6 years!

When Jo and I had this idea in June 2006, we never envisioned it to grow to more than 50 members plus a database of 200 or so non-members (those who do not yet qualify to join us).

Anyway, that is over and done with – our anniversary celebration last Saturday was a tiring effort on all fronts.

You know it’s never fun to be on the organizing committee. I only managed to eat a bowl of piping hot crab noodles before being called to do 101 things. Griping aside, I must admit I am kinda proud that the little group of five ladies we started has turned into something to be reckoned with in Penang.

While it was a success with a full turnout of ladies in their glittering best on a rainy Saturday, I felt that we could have done much more as a team.

Teamwork is always crucial in any event planning. I felt disappointed at some people’s attitudes.  You know how right it is that you only see the person’s true colours when that person is under stress or tight deadlines.

I came away contemplative.

I came away looking at some people with new eyes.

Some shone under pressure. They were brilliant in planning and execution. Some stepped up, right from the start.

Yet there were also some who brought their worry into the group.

They didn’t want to participate.

I told Pauline, let them be. We’d just have to do without them then. (I must tell you then of my cabbages and brocolli* theory. More of this later.)

And above all, have faith.

Because she was worried sick about ticket sales. As the organizing chairlady, she was in charge of paying full fees for the hotel ballroom even if we failed to sell our tickets.

In looking back, I realized I learnt this “having faith” idea from my Christian friends. I have so many of them that I’ve lost count. My best friend is a Catholic, did I tell you that? So I grew up hearing about her church activities and more.

A few of my good friends in Penang are Catholics. Many more are from various churches in and around Penang.

Faith was a word I have heard many times.

Until you experience it, it remains just that. A word.

Faith is about doing your best, your utmost, and then letting it go into the hands of someone, something that is far bigger and more powerful than ourselves. You can call it God. I call it the Cosmic Universe. I call it the Unknown Presence sometimes.

Faith is about helping ourselves so that someone else may help us. It could be indirect help. Or divine help.

When we hit our break-even ticket sale mark, Pauline was the first to let us know. And I was truly happy for her.

For in helping her sell tickets (and get sponsors and lucky draw contributors), we have all learnt something precious. That each of us has the ability to do more than we think we can.

We can challenge ourselves and we can make things happen. That’s what makes us all walk a little straighter. That’s what makes us more confident, more aware of the wondrous things we could do, if we put our minds to it.

For the naysayers who stood silent, who bit their lips, who worried instead of getting down to work, they may not have learnt anything.

And that’s really a pity.

Because the way I see it, an event like this (or any other event for that matter) is just a vehicle to test us all. Could we put ourselves away and do something for the greater good?

Far too many people can be negative. Being negative won’t help things run along.

Taking action and trying your best can.

When Kim jokingly said that from now onwards we’d all have withdrawal symptoms, I’d raised my eyebrows. No way. I had put aside a bunch of business stuff to do when I was roped into the planning committee.

Now I had to get back into putting my own stuff in order. Pending projects (eerrrkkk), clients I needed to meet for discussions and generally, my own self-development (you know, reading and learning).

I have faith.

And I hope, whatever you are going through right now, that you have faith too.

Things will get better!

P/S: *Oh yes, my cabbages and broccoli theory which Nic had laughed about just the other day. When I was 19, I had my teenage heart broken when the boy whom I liked turned out to be such a jerk – he had no guts to break up with me face to face; he did it on the phone! Worse, he had called my best friend, yes, that Catholic girl, and told her he was going to break up with me (she had introduced him to me).

Luckily my best friend called another best friend and they drove to my house at midnight, hoping to break the news gently to me before that boy called. Unfortunately, they were too late. So they lounged around my porch while I was on the phone, being “broken up” with! They were sweet.

He was a bum and a spineless worm (and thank god I didn’t marry him). Anyway, I told them later that it was a cabbages and broccoli thing.  My theory was if someone preferred cabbages, so be it. (Ahem, I was the broccoli in the analogy.) In my mind, if you preferred one thing over another, so be it. Just don’t regret eating cabbages all your life. I was going to be so damn “broccoli” that he would regret it for the rest of his life that he didn’t desire me.

Yes, I was a bit mad like that in my youth.

I have lived using this philosophy since then. I would never go begging someone to be my friend/lover/client; in fact, I’d make myself so attractive/smart/irresistible that those who’d scoffed would regret it sooner or later. That was the ultimate revenge.

It took a break-up for me to create my philosophy but it helped soothe a broken heart (which actually was healed when I met husband-to-be during  my first semester in USM!). So there. Strange but true.

Cabbages and broccoli. Tell me if you think I’m mad.

Eating in Cintra Street

You know, sometimes before I fall asleep, I have a million and one ideas for my blog. And when I wake up the next day, damn. The ideas have flown.De Tai Tong Cafe decked out with lanterns during Mid-Autumn Festival

Last night was one of those nights. Had a bunch of ideas to write about.

Well, good news…I have recovered from being a total sick zombie. It took me a while but I am back in one piece. Still have a scratchy throat and a bit of a cough but hey, as long as my appetite is back – the world looks a heck of a lot better. While some friends said I wrote better while half-dead, I think I shouldn’t be too dead sometimes. LOL.

Food Tales In De Tai Tong

I was having dinner with my folks and Godmother last night at Tai Tong (these days it has renamed itself into De Tai Tong Cafe). It’s impossible not to know of this dim sum and Chinese eatery along Cintra Street. It’s an institution. Even the old ladies who serve you – see I couldn’t even bear to call them waitresses – seem to have aged with this Chinese eatery.

De Tai Tong Cafe sells mooncakes during the Mid Autumn Festival

(Have I mentioned they are grumpy and pushy as hell? If it were not for my Godma suggesting this place, I’d hot-trotted to some other Chinese zhu-zhar place on Campbell Street but she hadn’t been to Tai Tong for a while and I thought, what the heck. The auntie servers are STILL as awful as ever.)

I knew it was a heck of an old place – I just didn’t know HOW old. I thought maybe the place is 30 years old. It looks that way.

Until over dinner last night my Dad remarked that Tai Tong is more than 50 years old! My mum chipped in and said that my maternal grandpa used to “yum cha” in the cafe back in those good old days. She used to eat at this place as a child! (My mum is in her early 60s so that says a lot about this place.)

OK, now that is some history. My Godma then said that in those days, Foo Heong (that’s another famous eatery across the road diagonally from Tai Tong) and Tai Tong were the bee’s knees. Both these eateries were super happening and get this – they served wedding banquet dinners.

I almost choked on my “siew mai” when I heard this.

When You Got Married Back Then…

Tai Tong Cafe isn’t very spacious. But back in those days, people getting married didn’t have the entire village invited. Plus they didn’t need a stage or karaoke either. Best of all, my parents told me that a typical wedding banquet would be about RM45 per table of 10 diners. (OK, second choking of siew mai now.)

“That’s cheap!” I blurted.

Mum said that when she got married in 1972, most guests would give you gifts instead of ang pows. Dad remembered lots of transistor radios plus the odd glassware set or two. And then the really generous relatives or friends would give you a RM10 shopping voucher so you could go to Tong Aik Departmental Store (that was THE airconditioned supermarket of its day in Penang) and pick your own wedding gift.

Piglets in a basket - every kid's favourite biscuit

My Godma remarked that in those days, RM45 was equivalent to our RM400 today. If someone gave you a RM10 shopping voucher, you must have meant a  lot to them because in those days, “char hor fun” was a mere 30 cents per plate!

So much inflation since then! So much have changed since then.

Sometimes having dinner at an old eating establishment brings back rather a lot of poking down memory lane.

What I Truly Detest About De Tai Tong Cafe

Anyway, I still don’t like the argumentative auntie servers at Tai Tong; they make ordering such a chore because they keep bugging you about ordering their specialty dishes when all I want is just my regular stuff. According to my parents and Godma, Tai Tong Cafe’s food isn’t as spectacular now. It used to be so much better.

As for me, this place can be a hit-and-miss affair.

Sometimes the food is really good – I quite like their braised duck noodles in ginger gravy, their fried rice and “ang thor” noodles (a poor man equivalent of sharks’ fin soup) with lashings of black vinegar.

I also enjoy their “char hor fun” is it is served piping hot and the gravy has not soaked into the hor fun entirely, making it a mess to eat. Their “sang meen” is another winner but again, it must be eaten piping hot or gets very cloying after it gets cold.

From time to time, the auntie servers will recommend all sorts of things to you – deepfried spring rolls, steamed fish, fried chicken wings etc. Pay no heed to them.

If you arrive at noon when they are packing up their dim sum for the day, they will bully you into buying their leftover dim sum or pau. Do not be taken in. Pity for their incessant bugging means you will be too stuffed to the gills later on.

The aunties just want to make their lives easier by offloading the remaining pau or dim sum to you. Politely but firmly decline. They may be aunties but it is my stomach yeah?

Weekends are crazy times to eat in Tai Tong as the entire weekend crowd of hungry Penangites and outstation visitors descend on Tai Tong like ants. Even the odd Mat Salleh or two will wander into this cafe and be hoodwinked into eating whatever the auntie servers recommend.

Parking along Cintra Street is much easier on week day evenings and less maddening.  And god knows that THAT by itself can be such a relief in Penang.

One Secret Place You Must Not Miss

If you come earlier say before 6pm, you can make a quick de-tour into People’s Court behind Tai Tong and look for the long-time and supremely famous biscuit maker, Leong Chee Kei at the flats. Again, this tiny shop is an institution. My mum remembers buying his “gai dann kou” – egg sponge cakes – as a kid.

I’m not a big fan of “gai dann kou” – it’s too dry and sticks in my throat but he has a plethora of traditional style biscuits to make your trip down memory lane worthwhile. He sells pepper biscuits, pong pneah, tau sar pneah, gai dann kou – all these freshly made daily.

And Yet Another One Serving Up Smiles

Of course, you should not miss the other famous pushcart opposite Tai Tong either – there are two pushcarts really. One sells Chinese herbal teas but the other pushcart sells “harm chim peang” and “pak tong kou”, again firm favourites of mine if I happen to pass by in the evenings. I always used to buy white sugar cake (“pak tong kou”) for my grandma as it seemed to be her favourite snack.

Then again, there is Foo Heong – super duper famous for its “yin yeong” or “char hor fun”. They have a Reputation you know. Nowadays the sheen and glam is gone but the last time I heard, you had to pay for extra chili or sambal if you wanted more for your “yin yeong”.

Oh I could go on and on about the old style eateries but that is enough for today.

Kimberly Street and Campbell Street and even Kampung Malabar each hold their own eateries worthy of blog posts on their own. Makes you salivate right? Right!

(Chan Kou Loh Dim Sum comes to mind and he’s gone. Also the famous Big Rock zhu-zhar who is still there whipping up dishes like a pro each time – errr, yes, who else is not famous in Penang? And dozens more.)

Such is living in Penang!

Do you have any Penang eatery secrets to share, since we’re on this topic?

Yellow, Yellow, Clean That Fellow!

It seems everyone I know is positively gearing up for BERSIH 3.0.

I am too. After what happened last year, and after reading about what my bestie went through – I felt so much of patriotism coursing through my body that I knew I had to attend one this year.

And so, there will be one.

Of course the destination to be at is still Dataran Merdeka – that is where the action is. But like Lerks said, if all of us politics-driven Penangites flock to KL, who will be here in the Esplanade to wear yellow? (Which by the way, though it is a favourite colour of mine, I have NO yellow t-shirt. Then again, even if you don’t wear yellow, try a yellow ribbon, or scarf or bandanna. That counts.)

This will be a big one. If BERSIH 2.0 was anything to go by, it showed that Malaysians have finally found courage to speak up against what’s wrong with the ruling Government of the day.

Like a friend of mine says,”We need to show them that we’re unhappy.”

Just like I read that we shouldn’t be morally self-righteous asses who reprimand those who do not support sit-ins and street rallies, I also want to say this: how else (besides voting) will we be able to show that we’re unhappy, angry, pissed and frustrated?

How else when the mainstream media is full of glowing and flowing praises for the powers-that-be? Their record is unblemished, they’re so good and pious and wonderful – why are we so hard to please?

You must know that I grew up reading Aliran magazine. I was 16 when I proclaimed to my Mum that  I wanted to be a lawyer. (Of course that didn’t happen because I realized I’d be too darn emotional as one and I was more inclined towards Mass Comm).

I am also a teacher’s daughter so that makes it quite a strange thing, no? Teachers are civil servants but teachers are also thinking humans. My dad got his supply of Aliran magazines even though he didn’t subscribe to them.

Was I against any political party then? Not really. But I never particularly liked the unctuous MCA people in Banting. I wasn’t even a DAP fan though I had heard of Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh.

How does this factor in my life today?

I am in my 30s and I have seen more than enough of rubbish so yes, sometimes it is despair.

It is also the unfairness of it all that makes me want to clobber someone. Why are idiots running this country? And again, my country and my government are two very distinct entities so all that rubbish about not being grateful is pure hogwash.

So I must attend BERSIH 3.0 because perhaps taking such an action and sharing the camaraderie with other people who feel the same way might pacify this awfulness gnawing at my heart. It will become worse (and I, as you know, am generally quite optimistic). There’s nothing like shared misery!

Besides this Saturday’s big do (and if you’re still thinking if you should go or not, just go – go for the sake of your kids, your grandkids), you can also take action – you can buy a radio to help Sarawak.

I’m helping friends who are involved in the “Adopt a Dayak Initiative” under the bigger banner of “From Sarawak to Putrajaya” to raise funds so that they can buy 2200 radios to be distributed into the interior of Sarawak.

Radios are quite low-tech in today’s hi-tech world but combined with the broadcasts from the independent radio station called Radio Free Sarawak, they should be able to inform the rural communities in hard to reach areas about what’s going in the land of the hornbill. The idea is to help the rural Dayak see that they can vote for change but in order to do that, they need to know what’s wrong so they can put it right.

Oh there are a multitude of issues – issues that we who live among Starbucks and Borders do not know such as land grab issue, identity card issue, logging issues and more. You can listen to Radio Free Sarawak too and find out what’s really happening. The good thing is, this radio station broadcasts stuff that tells of the plight of what these Sarawakians go through. We don’t know much here as we’re so far removed from them – it’s as if Borneo is another planet far far away!

As the campaign ends on 30 April (that’s like 4 days away), you can help me tell more people about this “Buy A Radio To Free Sarawak” and get people to buy at least one radio for RM50. You can like the page on Facebook but we realized nothing beats a personal email from you to your friends.

I’ve learnt a whole lot of things during the past few days of this campaign and I’m truly humbled by the outpouring of support and donations coming in from all over the world. I’ve heard of Malaysians overseas who are coming back to join BERSIH because they can feel the hope of solidarity. That’s different from the despair of a future in limbo.

Will you join me in this Saturday’s “yellow fever” sit-in at the Esplanade?

I hope you will.