A Writers' Gathering at Beach Blanket

Things have an odd way of turning out sometimes. Two days ago, we were supposed to join the PHT trip to Penang Hill. I got all excited because I love these PHT trips – they’re always informative and I always learn so much history. Which is a good thing because I think we often take our little Georgetown and Penang island for granted. Sometimes way too much.
Last month, we joined PHT and travelled to Taiping. Now that was a fantastic day trip to a town I thought I knew but how mistaken I was. (Hmm, that trip needs a blog post by itself – perhaps even one broken down into different parts because the town contained so many delightful spots to visit. OK, I must get down to it soon. If you think Taiping is JUST another dull Malaysian town, you will be in for a surprise.)
Anyway, we ended up at the Little Penang Street Market instead of Penang Hill because we didn’t fancy jostling with tourists on the Penang Hill tram. Our decision was made easier by the fact that Robert was in town and leaving that very Sunday night!
He was attending a reading by author Beth Yahp at the Beach Blanket Babylon so in no time, we were joining him and his friends from Penang Players at that bistro. (The book reading by Malaysian authors is a collaborative effort by Penang Players and Little Penang.)
Beth Yahp at her book reading
The cosy upstairs area of Beach Blanket Babylon bistro was the setting for Beth’s reading.
Of course Robert needs no introduction (he’s the author of the book, Lovers & Strangers Revisited) and neither does Beth (you can read an interview she did with The Sun newspaper ). I caught the last 15 minutes of the book reading session and interestingly, heard her opinions on the craft of writing.
Beth Yahp in Penang
What I remembered most was Beth saying that people expect writers/authors to churn masterpieces without realizing that writing needs practice. Lots of it.
Her tip? Write at least 500 words daily.
It’s a discipline I know Robert adheres to – he forces himself to sit down and write. That’s how one gets better and better at it. Robert even has a log book to keep track of his writing time. That’s how focused he is and that’s how focused Beth is too. I am rather undisciplined when it comes to writing so her advice was a good reminder to shut up and sit down to write. Daily.
As Robert says, a writer cannot have excuses. “Oh I have kids/family/full-time job/(fill in with fave excuse – I got no time), I cannot sit down daily.” Says who? Robert has kids too, he has a day job, and all but he still gets so gungho about writing. That I applaud.
The other interesting piece of advice from Beth is that you should never take it personally when an editor comments on your writing. Look at it objectively and see how those comments can help you improve your story. That’s a good reminder. Writers and artists tend to be a whole lot more sensitive. Our writing/artwork is like our baby – we get offended if others pass comments. And we’re so fearful of these remarks. It’s like a conundrum huh. At one end, we want it to be seen or read by the masses out there. On the other end, we are so afraid our work will be torn to pieces! Like Tze, author of Penang Passion, told me last week, we all feel inadequate about our writing but the thing is, we must sometimes conquer that fear and inadequacy and forge ahead.
Beth Yahp with her 2 books
Here’s Robert with Beth (and her books!).
But it wasn’t only Beth that we met at the reading. Another writer/the Star columnist, Mary Schneider, was there too with the rest of the Penang Players. I remarked to Mary that she looks so much younger in person (and this is a mother of 2 teens we’re talking about!). Her real self looked very different from the caricature you see accompanying her column.
Robert Raymer with Beth Yahp
Before I forget too, for the first time in Penang, Beth will be teaching a creative writing workshop on travel and life-writing in Penang on 15 and 22 September (10am to 5.30pm, with lunch and tea breaks). Venue will be confirmed later but it’s definitely in Penang (mentally doing somersault and going hurray, hurray). Her workshop’s limited to 10 to 15 persons only and the pre-requisite is that participants should have proficiency in English. Oh, and the cost… a very reasonable RM450 per person (RM350 for full-time students/unemployed). For more info, contact: bywritingworks@yahoo.com.au
Yup, I will be joining her workshop. Because I want to learn how to write better. Mostly I want to challenge myself to write creatively. And apply what I learn to this blog. I am sure my writing could be better.
If you have the means and enjoy creative writing, you’ll be giving yourself a gift by taking Beth’s workshop. 😉

Celebrating Our First Birthday

When Jo and I started our business ladies’ group last June, little did we know we would grow so fast! Five meets later, we have garnered some 28 ladies in our group and yesterday afternoon, we celebrated the first ‘birthday’ of WomenBizSENSE at the E&O Hotel. Our group comprises women running diverse businesses – real estate, graphics, Internet, education, music, food, arts and crafts, financial planning, advertising, art and more.
E&O Hotel Penang
Old world charm…The 1885 Restaurant, E&O Hotel Penang.
We had planned this afternoon tea about a month ago and we’re glad that many of our members could make it. Plus we had a special guest at our tea – Muzlifah – who had agreed to give us ladies a short but inspiring talk on managing principles for business and family.
WomenBizSense ladies network
Muzlifah sharing with us some management principles.
private room at E&O Hotel
A private room just for us ladies…looks just like someone’s dining room, right?
Through Harriet, one of our members, we secured for our celebration a private room within The 1885 Restaurant which is unbelievably elegant. The first thing many said upon entering the private room was “wow, so cosy!” Yes, it looks like someone’s really posh dining room complete with bone china tea cups and silverware.
womenbizsense table
English afternoon tea fit for a queen.
Everything looked so pretty and the service was definitely exquisite. The dainty tea cakes and desserts looked too good to be eaten. But soon we settled down to the tea as we started talking and reminiscing how everyone got to know each other.
tea cakes for tea at 1885
Pretty tea cakes which tasted absolutely divine.
I’m most grateful and thankful to be part of a group of dynamic business women, each one as accomplished as the next. I’ve met many amazing women who have achieved success on their own terms. And all because Jo and I decided to take a risk and start a group just for women.
And it’s not just business referrals that we’ve passed to one another. We’ve made new friends and learnt more about each other – yes, even the ups and downs, the good and bad. We’ve helped each other in non-business areas too such as being a friend in times of need.
krista susan and siewyean
Here I am (on the left) with Susan and Siew Yean.
Happy birthday WomenBizSENSE! And thanks to Erina, Mety, Siew Yean, Regine, Susan, Madelyn, Muzlifah, Harriet, Kim, Lynn and Sheila for spending your Friday afternoon with us.
* If you’re a woman business owner in Penang and would like to be invited to our future WomenBizSENSE meetings, contact me. We’d love to meet more dynamic businesswomen!

The Foodies in Us

As you probably noticed, I’ve been blogging less these past 2 weeks. Not because I’ve been out of ideas – I think I sometimes have too many!
It’s been my mistress, the Business. Yes, I’ve been up to eyeballs with work, client meetings and yes, presentations. And then friends have been coming to Penang and we’ve been good tour guides, taking them around, showing them the sights and of course, partaking in glorious food. That’s what Penang is famous for, right?
So much so that I actually MISS eating at home! Miss my own homecooked food. Yes, I was thinking of this just this evening as I sat down to a meal I cooked.
A friend told me that she thought I might be vegetarian. Not so. I used to steer clear of beef and mutton when I was in my teens. But now I don’t mind ordering beef or mutton when I eat out. Especially if I am eating at Kayu Nasi Kandar which has, in my opinion, the best beef curry in the universe!
And the beef kueh teow in town, as recommended to me by Vern. At RM6 per bowl (small) or RM8 per bowl (large), the crowds are rather huge at this corner kopitiam. The kopitiam ONLY sells this beef kueh teow soup. But you should see the patrons bursting out of the shop. Parking is crazy here but the things people will do for one bowl of this extra yummy beef noodles. We’re a nutty nation.
As I was telling a friend over dinner (see? the food connection again), we may argue and debate all things wrong with Malaysia but we’re totally in harmony when it comes to food. We get very patriotic when we’re talking about food.
When Nic was backpacking in Nepal many years ago and shivering to death in the cold mountain air, he dreamt about tucking into a bowl of bak kut teh! I can imagine how lipsmacking bak kut teh can be if one has been on a perpetual diet of Nepali food. I was stuffing my face with dragon ball biscuits in Hong Kong many years ago in order to stem some homesickness. My grandmother had brought the biscuits for my uncle who was then working in HK but I ate them all.
Last week M called me and said she managed to tar-pau 20 packets of this unique laksa lemak from Wisma Central in town. She invited me over to eat the laksa as she said the laksa is only sold once a week, on Thursday. Unfortunately I was not able to sample this unique offering but J, another friend tried it and gave her thumbs-up! Again, I am piqued and will need to nose this laksa lemak out for myself soon. I leave no food trail unexplored!
Speaking of food, I received a lovely coffeetable book from Tze a couple of days ago. I met her many years ago in a yoga class and re-connected with her just this year.
penang passion book
The immaculate Tze is the author of Penang Passion, a book on food and food tales of Penang. She calls herself the reluctant foodie but she really enjoys talking about food. (Tze kindly autographed the book and gifted me with a Penang Passion apron, remarking that I should try out the recipes in her book. Which I will, I hope.)
autographed Penang Passion
Penang Passion was just recently launched and she says that she’s been rather fortunate that her book has been flying off the shelves, thanks to supportive and encouraging friends and family (you can find it in MPH and Popular and soon, in Borders too). She is also a contributor to Vanilla, a Singaporean mag where she writes about her food adventures!
Of course, no one speaks to me without getting a dose of “you must blog, you really must!” And as she is a writer, I tell her it’s even easier to do so. She’s not the first person whom I evangelise about blogging to; I’ve done that to Robert, a friend/client who got so excited he now writes 2 blogs!
Tze wants me to speak on blogging soon (and so has a friend in KL who has been asking me if I have the time to conduct a blogging course for her customers) and I probably need to think seriously about it. 😉

Penang World Music Festival 2007

OK, I won’t go into a blow-by-blow account of what happened or who performed at last week’s Penang World Music Festival at Quarry Gardens (off Botanical Gardens). It’s probably blogged about by many Penang bloggers anyway. And they probably have better photos.
The main stage set up.
Madame was too lazy to go near the stage to snap photos because it was raining – hard! I was trying my best not to get wet (brought an umbrella though) but in the end, it was all in vain. The rain pelted harder as the night wore on and soon, I was soaking wet! And I was on a tikar too!
We were among the early birds at 6.40pm. Some were earlier than us! Notice that umbrellas were popped open – it had started to drizzle!
The three of us (Nic, myself and a friend who came all the way from Langkawi) huddled under 2 umbrellas, willing the rain to go away but it didn’t hear us or the bomoh in charge of making rain go away was probably not as powerful as those used for football matches.
The reason why Nic and I are highly interested in this PWMF2007 is that we’ve been to the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching for 3 consecutive years (2002, 2003 and 2004).
Part of the Quarry Gardens… it’s a rather small area for a world music festival.
Now that’s one highly charged festival – lots of good stuff happening. RWMF (which celebrated its 10th years) has a couple of pluses too – the vibes in Sarawak are totally different, the location (at the foot of Gunung Santubong) is magical and everyone who attends the RWMF flies in just for the event. So it’s truly a holiday atmosphere, and you’re really away from it all.
Now in Penang, we’re smack dab in the middle of the city. Quarry Gardens is ok but it’s no rainforest ala Gunung Santubong style.
We were there to watch some of our favourite world musicians in action, especially Huun Huur Tu & Malerija (a terribly potent combination which makes some awesome head-banging music) and Ensemble Kaboul of Afghanistan (exotic music from traditional music intruments like the tabla, harmonium, flute and more) and Inka Marka (inspirational panpipe music that’s quite resonant of the South American landscape the group is from). We have actually watched most if not all of the musicians before at RWMF but it’s good to listen to them and see them perform again.
We had bought tickets for the 3 days fest but managed to go on Friday and Saturday nights. It was raining heavily on Sunday night, and we decided not to get soaked (again) even if we did arm ourselves with ponchos this time. PWFM should be scheduled sometime in February or March as these are the hot and dry months for Penang.
I liked that the performances started punctually each evening, about 7.30pm and ended promptly too, at midnight. On the first evening, we picked a nice spot about 20 meters from the main stage and had a good view of both main stage and second stage. But the rain made the ground mushy and muddy so we were smarter the second evening – we camped out right in front of the screen, specially set up to enable those far up to see the performances.
The Narasirato Panpipers from Solomon Islands, a group of exuberant panpipers from a group of islands to the east of Australia.
PWMF is a good start to get more people interested in world music but it needs time before it can be as addictive as RWMF. Ticketcharge will start selling tickets to 2008 RWMF in January next year (they’re pretty savvy in promoting the event now, 10 years on).

Feasting on Durians

The idea was mooted by a friend/durian fan during one of our ladies’ networking meets about 2 weeks ago. This friend, SY, had asked casually if any of us were durian lovers and if we could have a durian party, well at least before the durian season ends!
And so after plenty of SMSes around, and emails, we realised that everyone is either on a diet (too worried about getting plump), can’t stand durians (non-durian eaters) or too unwell to partake in a feast of durians (some were coughing, others were heaty and etc).
And that was why it was only us 4 who actually turned up last Friday afternoon for our much anticipated durian feast. Initially we had wanted to be real lazy and have it somewhere in town, with comfy chairs and plenty of water to wash our hands. But someone said that it was much better if we went up to Balik Pulau for durians – it was more authentic!
Of course in the end we didn’t drive all the way to Balik Pulau – we probably would’ve got lost. But J did suggest a place she knew, which was just in Paya Terubong which sold good quality durians. She had been a regular buyer of Mr Low’s durians eversince the season started.
We met at the Shell petrol station in Air Itam, just before the roundabout to Penang Hill and piled into M’s car that afternoon. The drive took about 10 minutes, as we passed the Air Itam market, all the way to Paya Terubong.
The durian shack was easy to locate – it was just beside the bend in the winding road. You can’t miss it. And strangely, I was glad there were no heads as the shack was named “The Head Brand Durian”!
It was just a rough-and-tumble shack, with piles and baskets of durians. The shack had some benches and tables where one could sit down and start ‘attacking’ the king of fruits. It also had an outhouse and running water so one could actually wash one’s hands after a meal of durians.
The customer service was great probably because we four looked like we couldn’t ever pry open a durian by ourselves. The owner/seller – Mr Low – was this happy, bald chap in his 50s, who offered us durian after durian. He even offered us some fragrant cempedak, for free. He even cut open mangosteens for us! Talk about being pampered.
The only thing which we lacked was drinking water. In some places, drinking water is offered as soon as you sit down.
But the ‘siao hong’ and ‘ang hea’ durians Mr Low sells are absolutely yummy. I like durians which are bitter and each durian he offered us seemed to be better than the last! It was like heaven being feted with durians of such amazing quality.
And it wasn’t even expensive. In the end, he charged us RM10 per person. We also bought durians to take home (yes, the ‘tar pau’ culture is alive and well). He was kind enough to give us each one free durian. My pack of 5 durians cost RM25. When I opened them at home later, each durian was as good as the ones I had at the durian shack.
Mr Low says that there is one more month before the durian season ends so if you want to have your fill, it’s a pleasant drive up to his Head Brand shack in Paya Terubung.
I’m thinking I must drive up there soon before the durian season ends – there’s really nothing like a good durian or two!
Head Brand Durian (Mr Low Boon Yau)
019 447 5932 or 04 658 1344

From Air Itam, just drive along to Paya Terubung, past Majestic Heights flats, and about 5 minutes after passing Majestic Heights, you will see the durian shack.
Opening hours: Morning to 5pm daily

Have to Have Girlfriends

Decided to take a break from clients’ work to focus on blogging a bit. It always makes me light-hearted when I start tapping on the keyboard.
I had lunch with a good pal today – despite busy days, we must take time out for friends ya? And yes, I must eat too right? All that brainwork needs some fuel!
We decided to try Bakerzin at Queensbay Mall this afternoon as both of us had yet to try their food. At first I suggested Chili’s at G Hotel (yes, people, that place is open) but both of us had already ‘been there, done that’ so no point in trying something we’ve eaten before. Plus you do need a sizeable group to makan in Chili’s – the portions are huge. American sizes, you know.

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Not 2020

I was at my favourite optometrist this afternoon, albeit begrudgingly. I say begrudgingly because it’s one of those things that rank lowest on my to-do list. It’s like this: I do enjoy my visits to Mr Tan’s shop at Jalan Sg Dua, opposite USM, but I can’t stand waiting. His shop is usually full of customers! And he’s the only person I trust to give me a good eye checkup!
I’ve been his customer for a decade now. I’ve known him for so long that he’s the only person I go to, if I have any major eye problems. Touch wood, I have not had that since my last eye infection. I go to Mr Tan for all my eye needs – spectacles and contact lenses.
I was feeling quite lazy today and just wanted to pop in and get my 6-month supply of contact lenses. But I had some problems with my last pair of contact lenses so I thought I best give Mr Tan some feedback about this.

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Make Memories Forever

I’ve always thought of myself as the creative sort – I guess it came to me when I was 9 that I knew how to draw an OK picture of a vase of pathetic flowers. My Cikgu at that time was this sweet motherly woman who told, no, encouraged me to enter a drawing competition in school one day. I adored this Cikgu and wanting to please her, I said yes.
Only later did I realise that I had no idea what I had to do!
But that was my first flirtation with art.

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