Saturday, October 20, 2007

Of muhibah, kampungs and the slow travelling movement

I don't normally do news round-ups - see Jeff Ooi for that - but a few things caught my eye today.

The first is Johan Jaaffar's lament on "Those long-gone days of muhibah in the kampung" in today's New Straits Times. Johan's point is not new: In the past, during more innocent times, before and just after Malaysia gained her independence in 1957, it was not unusual for families of various ethnicities to not only live cheek-by-jowl with each other, but have genuine interactions and friendship. This pining for the good old days is particularly prevalent among Malaysians of a certain vintage as well as politicians out to mask their tendency to fan ethnic chauvinism with empty rhetoric of multi-cultural harmony, or muhibah.

I highlight Johan's lament because my friend John is right now undertaking a ride across the country in search of that muhibah spirit, and is at this very moment, passing through Muar, the setting for Johan's commentary. What was remarkable about Johan's picture of an idyllic kampung was that "in 1948, the area surrounding my village was the scene of the worse racial turmoil the country had ever known."

Meanwhile, two Morrocan scouts are walking through Asia to promote "love, peace and tolerance", and has arrived in Malaysia. What is it about people taking the slow road to spread positive messages? Is it because the physically draining act of walking and cycling humbles a person and makes him or her more sensitive or self-aware? Is it that the slower pace allows one to truly appreciate the worth of every single human being one encounters? Or is one just too darned tired to argue?

Riding is of course an environmentally-friendly, low-impact way of playing tourist, as this feature on Pulau Ketam bike tours attests. My recent post on the charming island failed to include some of the nitty-gritty travel details that good, responsible bloggers are supposed to have provide. Oh well, *shrug*.

But I did have a pix of pepper crabs! :)

P.S. If any of the links to the articles become broken, leave a comment and I'll fix it!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


In an earlier post, I had commented on the irony of serving char kuay teow for a charity event raising funds for survivors of stroke (as well as our ex-Prime Minister asking for equally sinful Malaysian street food after his heart operation).

You see, the ingredient that makes char kuay teow sinfully delicious is, well, lard! But isn't this such an innocuous ingredient? It's just so white, and pristine! So harmless looking.

All you have to do is to just cut a big piece into cute little tiny cubes...

... and have them simmer in a wok over a gentle fire.

And before you can say "angioplasty, pshaw!", they've turned into lil' golden brown snacks, leaving behind the liquid that adds that indescribable extra to char kuay teow and countless other favourites. How bad can they be? ;)

Fortunately, in this health conscious age, more and more cooks are consigning this naughty booster to the realm of memory ("Oh, food tasted so different in my time"), although it is threatening to make a comeback.

Still, its widespread absence has enabled even survivors of strokes to have a plate of char kuay teow now and again without their nutritionist having a heart attack.

Monday, October 15, 2007

And he's off!

Updated version: I had blogged earlier about my friend John who planned to ride from the southernmost to the northernmost part of peninsula Malaysia in a journey to uncover his place in his nation and his nation in him. Well, he left this afternoon and you can follow his progress in his own blog.

The southernmost tip of Malaysia is Tanjung Piai, a National Park that has visitor friendly boardwalks criss-crossing parts of the 526 hectares of coastal mangrove swamps and canals.

A Ramsar certified site, Tanjung Piai is also the southernmost tip of the Asian continental land mass.

We headed out to Tanjung Piai at mid-morning and reached there just before noon. John, Mei and I decided to play tourists for a while and we walked along the boardwalk marveling at the swamp and the rich animal and plant life it sustained.

We finally reached the southernmost point, a stark, soulless jetty with concrete floor, bizarre sayings nailed onto the railings, and ...

... a globe that looks like it has seen better days in a 3rd rate amusement park. John, though, seemed transfixed by it, perhaps plotting his next trip?

After a lacklustre lunch in Kukup at a seafood restaurant designed to relieve unsuspecting Singaporeans of their dollars, we headed back to Tanjung Piai for the real business of the day... The Journey.

First off, getting the gear out of the car. "Hmmm, I seemed to be missing something?"

After much moving things about...

... out comes the frame and the bags.

Take out the second wheel...

... and make sure there is enough air in it...

... before securing it to the frame.

Tyre pressure check for the back wheel.

And make sure all the bags are secured properly.

Now it's time to put on the right gear, starting with shoes.

Load the bags at the back...

... making sure they are balanced.

Put on the funny little thingamajig they call a bicycle helmet...

... and some mean gloves....

before taking a swig of holy water, blessed by the patron saint of cyclists, St. Wheely.

Give the ol' gal a good, long hug. Notice how I cleverly focused on the background, rendering the tender moment in soft focus, something I totally intended to do when releasing the shutter of my idiot-proof camera.

Then it's time to climb on board, test the gadgets and go for a quick spin.

All set, the man flashes his trademark cheeky grin...

... and he's off. Good luck, John. Be safe.