Early Christmas Celebration

I love my weekends.
I get to do lots of socialising on weekends – going out with friends (yo, Lisa! When are you coming back to Penang?), finding out new places to makan, discovering little gems in Georgetown (man, I love Penang!) and sometimes, even hanging around my own apartment is fun. I like to relax by reading at my balcony, no matter how cramped it is; surrounded by my plants (yes, I do the odd gardening now and then) – the odd chili plant, a rebellious bamboo plant, aloe vera, cacti – and my two pots of colourful guppies.
So this weekend isn’t that different.
Last night, Nic and I joined Erina and Lawrence (of Cooking Island) as well as Lillian and her family over at the Children’s Protection Society, Scotland Road to have an early Xmas celebration with the children of the home.
Many, many thanks must go to Erina for inviting Nic and I to bring some cheer to these children and share our Friday night with them – many have had difficult pasts and painful histories.
While Erina brought food for the simple dinner for the 13 children whose ages ranged from five to 17, we brought them gifts of stationery and chocolates. Which child doesn’t enjoy chocolates? Lilian and her family brought pizza and gifts of toys.
The children started off quietly taking their dinner but once they got to know us 6 adults, it was quite a riot. They loved the attention and their happy grins told us all we needed to know. The smaller children were lively and funny, each adorable in their own way while the older ones were a bit more reserved.
It’s hard to understand why these children were neglected or abandoned by their caretakers or guardians, which in many cases are their parents. Some are in the home because their parents cannot take care of their children properly. Some parents are unfit to be parents. It’s devastating to think that some of these children will grow up alone, not knowing why they were dismissed from their parents’ lives.
I sometimes think we humans are the only creatures in the world who have the brains to think logically yet sometimes do the stupidest things. We who have the ability to know right from wrong, good from bad can go so far as to abandon our children; even animals don’t do that.
Which is why I always say that it is a tough task to be a REAL parent. One who teaches, guides and nurtures a child to be a human being of the highest potential is a real parent. Just because one can pro-create does not automatically make one a parent. It is a label to be earned. Pro-creating unnecessarily makes us no better than animals but even animals know the right time and place to start another generation. We humans like to justify our lusts.
Anyway, this won’t be our last visit to the home. Nic and I hope to go more often now that we know we can make so much of a difference to these children. Even a short visit made them light up like Christmas trees.
Happy children
It is true that the giver gets so much more than the receiver.
We get the gift of perpetual prosperity – riches which cannot be measured in ringgit and sen – when we give of ourselves, our time and our kindness.

Oh Margaret, Where Are You?

I’ve become quite worried the past 2 days.
Margaret usually comes around via the back balcony near my trusty old washing machine. She’ll nimbly jump onto the machine, sit atop of it and meow so that we’ll know it’s her and open the kitchen door for her. She used to jump down immediately when we open the door but of late, she knows she has to wait for us to pick her, place her down and get her paws wiped with a wet towel first before she enters our apartment.
She despises the wiping paws bit as we do use a wet towel. But she knows she cannot evade this if she wants to come in.
In short, Margaret’s a semi-pet.
If you don’t know her story yet, you can do a backtrack and read how this feline came into our lives amidst chaos and blood.
Well, many months later, she’s become our official semi-pet. We jokingly call her our HR Manager a.k.a Catbert, after that deliciously evil cat character in Dilbert (which incidentally is every geek’s fave comic. Ask Nic. He waits for the strip every Tuesday and Thursday in InTech, The Star).
She went from a diet of sardines (fresh and uncooked which we bought off Mrs Gan, our fishmonger at Lip Sin market) to Friskies Mackerel (sometimes, it’s Tuna) and Whiskas cat biscuits. She went from mangy, dirty stray with no manners to an absolute charming tabby that had a mind of her own. Like all cats, she possessed an extremely independent streak. She loved nothing better than lolling about, sleeping and playing like a kitten.
She was wily too – 30 minutes after a breakfast of cat biscuits, she’d pleadingly ask us for seconds. Anytime she heard a noise in the kitchen, she’ll be there. Just to sit and ask for food. It was natural we found out. Neutered cats have only one thing on their minds: food because they’re basically de-sexed. The drive is no longer there.
Anyway, she’d become so much of our daily lives that she was a routine more than a pet. She’ll spend the night outdoors, hunting for the odd mouse or two and come really early in the morning to ask for food. She’d clean herself after that and settle in for a nice long snooze in our apartment till lunch when she’ll wake up for lunch, usually another round of cat biscuits.
Her afternoon siesta was a must; she’ll find a warm place to curl up. Sometime it was the balcony, behind the aloe vera plant. Other times, it was near the bathroom, on two mats we specially placed for her (royal) catness. When the weather grew too humid, she’ll just lie right on the cool tiles in the hall itself (it helped that the fan was directly above her).
When she hears me pottering about the kitchen in the late evenings, she’ll wake up, have a shivery long stretch and come poking her cat nose into things. She knows it’s time for dinner. Dinner’s much anticipated because it is often warm rice with canned tuna or mackerel. And after that, Margaret waddles her fat butt back to her most comfy area in the apartment – near the bathroom – and falls asleep.
So we’re used to her routine. She gets the royal treatment from us as Nic will brush her fur out in the mornings and give her eye massages (yes! we’re mad cat people) sometimes. Margaret’s clean too as she gets a bath each Friday morning. She doesn’t mind the baths so much although she stands at weird angles at the bathroom sink.
But Margaret has disappeared since Tuesday. We were out of the apartment the whole of Tuesday and when we arrived home, no sign of the tabby. We thought she’d gone off to another ‘family’ for a bit – she does have her share of apartments she could go to, if only to ask for food. But two days have come and gone and Margaret’s missing.
I actually got depressed over this and am increasingly worried that she might have been taken away by people who don’t like strays around our apartment area. Margaret isn’t technically a stray cat – she’s ours – in a way. So I grew mad, and then worried, and back again to mad because I don’t know where she could be.
But it’s easy to recognise her because she’s got her left ear nicked. The vet ‘cut’ a little triangle off her ear to indicate that she’s been neutered.
Anyway, this is just a little rant to get the worry off me. I do hope Margaret finds her way home. It’s strange how animals change us. A year ago, I’d scoffed if anyone told me I’ll be a cat owner. Or that I’d miss a green-eyed feline whose favourite pastime is sleeping with one paw over one eye.
Nic told me that if she’s gone, then so be it. But that’s not me. I want to know if Margaret’s really gone or if she’s been taken away, or hurt. I guess I get very attached to animals – I cried my eyes out when my tortoise and lovebird died last October.
Margaret, our wise tabby
Oh Margaret, where are you?
Margaret looking pensive

Lat, Minah and Nasi Campur

This morning we were too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. I didn’t feel like eating kueh teow thng, porridge or roti canai. Finally I remembered Minah Restoran, a place we often passed as we drove along the Gelugur main road but never bothered to ever try it out. Until I read somewhere that it serves good nasi campur.
Minah Restoran Gelugur Penang
We arrived at 11.30am which is a good time actually as the Malay dishes were just being cooked. Minah Restoran is made up of two shops and is located on the same row as Maybank Gelugur. Parking can be quite iffy – you either get a parking spot or you don’t as lots are limited.
According to the third generation owner, a friendly chap, Minah’s has been around for the past 50 years. Lat’s eaten at the place in 1994 and even drew a cartoon for them (it’s framed and hung near the wash basin – pretty clever advertising!). Another frame holds a certificate dating back to the 1970s when Minah won for best non-air conditioned restaurant. The restaurant attracts lots of USM staff (due to such close proximity) – not surprisingly too as a number of USM lecturers live around the Minden housing area too.
The restaurant is breezy despite the heat wave we have in Penang right now. You walk right to the back of the outlet to pick your dishes. The open kitchen is located on the other side but customers can still see what’s going on. And A LOT is going on – a lot of cooking and frying!
When we told him that it was our first time at Minah’s, the chap who speaks English happily recommended house favourites to us. He reeled off a number of dishes: fried chicken with sauce, ikan masak lemak, prawn sambal with petai, fish head curry and beef gulai. Everything looked appetizing!
Nasi campur dishes
In the end we picked beef gulai, kembung fish masak lemak, fried chicken slathered with a special sourish-sweet sauce, lots of cucumber, four-angled beans and ulam with a side of sambal belacan and prawn sambal with petai to go with our white rice.
Ulan sambal belacan
I found the ikan masak lemak to be really rich and creamy, redolent of bunga kantan and I could very well have slurped up all the gravy if no one was looking! The beef was tender too. The dishes weren’t too spicy and the sambal belacan was just right. In some places, sambal belacan is so fiery that after scorching my tongue, I can’t seem to taste any other flavours at all. Despite the fried chicken being a house recommendation, I couldn’t reason why it should be so.
fried chicken malay style
Although prices are not exactly cheap either (our food bill for two plus drinks came up to RM23.80), Minah’s is clean and airy. I have eaten in other Malay warung before and usually you get lots of flies and cleanliness is definitely a compromise.
Ulam Malay salad with sambal
Minah’s also attracts a good crowd of Chinese customers – I would say there’s a 50:50 mix of Malay and Chinese customers, a feat quite rare in Malay outlets! Minah’s also does catering and lots of people arrive just to tar-pau the nasi campur. They don’t just tar-pau one or two packets; many cart off more than five packets each!
Our verdict? We were absolutely satisfied with the curries and thankful for this gem of a find on a searing Saturday morning and we’ll definitely go back to try more of its tempting dishes.

Borders (Books) in Penang

I totally succumbed. I told myself I wouldn’t but curiosity didn’t kill the cat for nothing.
I visited Queensbay Mall, Penang’s newest shopping mall two days in a row! (On a side note: whoever named it Queensbay didn’t realize how regular Aunties might mispronounce it – I overheard someone call it Keenbay. We’re Malaysians-lah!)
Penangites have a fondness for shopping but then again, Malaysians have a proclivity for shopping anytime, anywhere. That’s why we go nuts over Malaysia Mega Sales and our eyes widen at the mere mention of sale be it warehouse sale, jumble sale, charity sale, etc. Shopping and eating best define Malaysians.
When Queensbay was not Queensbay yet, the building was partially built before it was shamelessly abandoned due to the economic recession a few years back. It was an eyesore particularly as this huge and long building was so near the Bayan Lepas factory area – the place where you get many of the multinational companies such as Intel, Agilent, Motorola, Dell etc. The location of Queensbay was strategic; it sat on a narrow strip of land which fronted the Pantai Jerejak beach and now with the new Jelutong Expressway, it’s easier to spot and faster to reach!
Anyway, the many Penangites I know (and who are living around that Queensbay area) have opted to stay away until things are calmer. When the buzz dies down or something. I was scared too because I saw long lines of cars snaking their way to the mall on opening day on December 1st. Plus, a long line of cars parked OUTSIDE on the side of the road.
Vern told me something about some hantu but I reckon it’s probably some jealous businesses over at other malls who spread the rumour. Then again, people might just want to go and see for themselves if there’s really any hantu’s about. Maybe shopping hantu!
Short of making this a review (which I won’t coz it’s too trite yeah?), I can say that finally we poor, pathetic Penang people can get a quality bookstore. Borders is officially opening tomorrow (three yays for that). Popular Books is there too though I have a problem with its narrow aisles! They’re on separate ends of the mall so no direct competition.
Jusco is the main tenant and that’s really wonderful because Jusco’s in house brands (particularly its Chic Avenue clothes) are affordable. I’ve been a Jusco fan for the longest time now but I only get to shop at Jusco whenever I am back in the Klang Valley. Jusco the supermarket on the lower ground floor is also bright and cheerful. It was teeming with dozens of shoppers; it was as if this was the only supermarket in the whole of Penang – Jusco folks must be smiling from ear to ear.
Much of the mall is still being renovated and refurbished – the many contractors and workers move in to do work once the mall’s official business hours are over. Many outlets are still unopened but the ones which have opened in time are doing really good business, especially food outlets like Kenny Roasters, Auntie Anne Pretzels, McDonalds, Sushi King, Chicken Rice Shop, Manhattan Fish Market, Laksa Shack, Starbucks, Wong Kok Kitchen, Siam Express and lots more.
Oh yes, TGIF’s is in the mall too together with Haagen Daz, Purple Cane Tea House, The Body Shop and all those shops I used to wish were in Penang when I was in KL. The makan places are so packed during meal times (as if one has never tasted McD!) that one has to line up to wait for a table but the rest of the mall is spacious and one does not truly get claustrophobic (though one might initially get lost trying to find the mall entrance from the multistory car park). I guess it’s not called the longest mall in Penang for nothing.
Queensbay Mall The mall is just 10 minutes’ away from my place and I just hope they’ll include a cineplex soon to complete the whole mall experience. Parking is presently free but I see signs that it will be chargeable once all equipment is in place. Probably be just like Gurney Plaza.
Me…I am just satisfied that Borders is finally in Penang! (Plus they have really beautiful and tall Christmas trees in the foyer!)

When Friends Are Toxic…

I got a call bright and early last Saturday. Thanks to technology, I knew who was calling. Errrgh. It was SL. I stared at the number and refused to pick up the call.
Minutes later, my phone beeped. As I guessed it, a voicemail message from SL. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to retrieve the message.
Ah yes, the voice was the same. Same old person. She was rambling about some Xmas party plan. Would I please call her back soon?
I deleted that message once I got it. I don’t usually act this horribly when it comes to friends but I have known SL since we were in university about a decade ago.
And I regret knowing her.
At this point, you’ll probably be raising your eye brows quizzically. What is so horrible about SL that makes me regret ever meeting her? And if you know me, I am a rather easygoing, adaptable and ‘cin cai’ person. I would not badmouth a person if I can help it. Because what goes around comes around. And I am a Buddhist who strongly believes in karma.
But SL takes the cake because she’s a toxic friend. She’s the type of person that is sneaky and conniving, using friendship as a disguise to put other people down, stomp on their confidence and destroy whatever positive things they have.
I used to think that she was just a little bit tough to get on with. But over the years, she has not shown any improvement in her personality. Her abrasiveness and bluntness is not a trait that is loved, judging by the number of friends who came for her wedding.
That’s why I avoided her all these years. She once duped me to join her for lunch only to sit through some dumb MLM presentation of hers. (I don’t like MLM or insurance schemes or mutual funds. And everyone I know seems to have aversions for these things too. But MLMers think the next best MLM business is just around the corner.) Well, SL has tried everything in MLM – she sold gold coins (which were later found out to be a fraudulent scheme), she tried cosmetics, she tried selling technology devices.
She even tried to make her fortune in the States only to find herself back in Malaysia 3 months later because “the weather’s too cold and anyway I got pregnant and I wanted to be near my family here.” Whatever.
I tend to be forgiving most times. So two years after avoiding her, I thought she’d repented. One day she called me up and asked for a recommendation. The company she worked with needed to produce a company video for trade show purposes and did I know anyone to refer to her?
I slipped up. I thought she had become better. So I gave her LSM’s name and contact. She said she’d contact LSM directly and liaise with her.
Two months later, I hear that SL had shown her stripes again. She had called LSM and wanted to meet. LSM, being a good marketing executive, drove from Penang to Juru where SL’s company was located. What happened was sheer audacity on SL’s part. She yelled at my friend for being 3 minutes’ late. She shouted at her and told her to apologize to her bosses! She acted high and mighty although LSM revealed later that it was more of a Chinaman company that had no inkling whatsoever about marketing. They thought getting a video done cheaply would enhance their stature internationally at trade shows.
When I heard that, I was mad. Here I was trying to help her help her company and she took out her anger on my friend, a personal recommendation. Talk about ingrates.
After that episode, she didn’t call me. After all I knew that she would only call IF she had something to ask or wanted help.
I never want to talk or see her again. I don’t want to hear her whine about another failed MLM venture. I never want to see her face again. I never even want to say hello to her ever. It’s the awful truth but she’s highly toxic. She can ruin the most perfect day when she opens her mouth. And that’s because she doesn’t have anything good to say about others. Which is a pity because if only she learnt to be grateful, to be happy and to be a real friend.
I’ve been Miss Nice for too long and people take advantage of that. Yes, I guess at 32 ++, I have had enough experience to tell myself honestly that I only want genuine friends who make my day; not tyrants and prima donnas who think they’re the cat’s whiskers. And at 32++, I feel confident enough to say “enough is enough”.
If you have a toxic friend, get rid of them – phase them out of your life and see your life improve dramatically. You’re too good to be hanging around riff-raff!

Backing Up is Hard to Do!

Kate sms-ed me yesterday (thanks dear! You’re my eye on the Net) and asked me to check my blog – saying that it seems my posts were dated 29 October instead of the more recent ones.
Actually, it’s a complicated explanation but let’s get to the real thing – software updates to the blog and all that made the whole blog revert back to the last saved version – yes, the backup was until 29 October. That’s why Kate saw posts of 29 October. Sorry dear for giving you a heart attack. Didn’t mean to.
But after updating the blog software and all that, I also realised the backup didn’t include my most recent post on the Waseda Brass Band and it was too recent to be cached by Google; otherwise I’d just go and copy that off the cache version from Google and be truly happy.
Yes, everything has been restored except that most recent post on Waseda Brass Band which I unfortunately forgot to do manual backup. You know, copy and paste the whole blog post into MS Word. Sigh. So I have to now rewrite the piece. From memory.
My minor ‘arrrghs’ with technology is nothing new. It’s almost routine sometimes that I have to absolutely laugh at myself (crying won’t do any good – the laptop doesn’t have much emotions anyway when it ‘hangs’!). I am sure many of you who work with computers and technology have your own horror stories to tell. A friend of mine watched her whole assignment go down the drain due to a corrupted disk two years ago. She had to re-type the assignment the whole night as it was due the next morning! Talk about bad luck!
Yes, I may work intensely with computers and technology but I too have this crazy fear that one day all my work will be gone. So folks, the mantra is – backup, backup and backup. Yes, it is tedious, it is the thing you hate most but if you want to save yourself some major heartache, backup your important files every week or every month. Have two backups too – one at home and one at a remote location, maybe your office. Just in case, you know.
As for blogs, WordPress has a one-click backup utility which is very helpful. I don’t know about other blogs but WordPress has always been my number one blog choice. It’s really made for people like you and me. Intuitive and very lovely interfaces, WordPress does make life easier.
In case your blog is still unable to help you backup with one click, you can do it my regular way. Blog into your MS Word or OpenOffice document and then copy and paste into your blog. This way, you’ll always have a version on your PC no matter what happens. I do this for my Blogspot blog (yes, I have a separate blog for my soup recipes! I know, I must be nuts to have so many blogs to write for but I am not the only one. Many bloggers I know do that.)
Or the other way is type everything into your blog and then when you’re satisfied that it’s your finalised text, copy and paste it into Notepad, MS Word or whatever word processor you are using. This way is perfect for people who are perfectionists and like to change things at the last minute.
Anyway, people do forget about backups and doing what they should. So have I. That’s why my Waseda Brass Band Concert which I attended last Friday at USM’s Dewan Budaya is missing. I do hope to get it back into the blog again by this evening.
Until then, BACKUP, BACKUP and BACKUP.
While you’re at it, you must go and learn the Tao of Backup…. it’s funny but oh-so-true. Learn it at http://taobackup.com/
PS: While I am at it, I might be changing the blog skin sometime soon. Yep, in time for 2007. And one more thing, I didn’t manage to save the Comments all you kind folks left for me, especially for the last few posts. So absolutely sorry. And you know, Comments are what keep me going. At least I know people read and have a reaction towards what I blog about.