Friday 29 April 2005

Train of Thoughts

There’s something about travelling by train that I find fascinating and exciting. But before you could flick through Freud and link my fascination to you know what, I’d be halfway to my destination – Exeter, the Cathedral City, where among the ruins and remnants left by the Romans, I’ll surrender myself to the enchantment and beauty of Malay syairs and hikayats as presented by scholars of Malay studies from around the world. But that is just by the by and the subject of another blog, surely.

Right now, I am so looking forward to another train journey that will take me to a part of England I have never been before – Devon. A whole three hours from London Paddington! Enough time for some revision in preparation for my exam soon. But I will so enjoy the view of the English countryside whizzing past the window.

Eversince I was small, train journeys, usually during the start of school holidays, were something that I looked forward to. We’d visit my eldest sister who was then based in Johore, a far distant land near that oh so modern city of Singapore! From the small town of Yen, with its beautiful backdrop of Gunung Jerai, a train journey took a good whole day and a bit.

There’d be a buzz of excitement in the neighbourhood over our impending journey and Mak would prepare days ahead, packing and repacking clothes and foodstuff for daughter number one in that far distant land. There’d be food, lots of food, of course for that long journey. Out came the treasured and colourful Tupperware containers for the nasi lemak and sambal tumis ikan bilis, lots and lots of fried chicken, and of course boiled eggs. With flasks of coffee and tea, and iced water in tumblers, there’d be enough to feed the whole coach.

We’d be too excited to sleep and by the time we dozed off, it’d be time to wake up and make that early morning journey by hired taxi to Alor Setar where we’d catch the morning train. Relatives from far and near would gather at the station to say goodbye.

I will always remember the rush. Always rush, rush, rush to get the best seats, or any seat at all near the window. Sometimes, by the time the train from Padang Besar, I think, reached Alor Star, we’d have to make our way past baby swings suspended from the ceiling, bags of foodstuff and crates of fruits and sometimes passengers squatting on the floor. We'd dodge riffles of soldiers just out from the jungle, sleeping off their exhaustion and perhaps dreaming about the long awaited reunion with their families.

Mak would always warn us not to wear white or any light coloured garments – and we soon understood why. Usually by the end of the journey, even our faces would be blackened from the soot.

Our first stop was Bukit Mertajam where we had to change train. Passengers from the southbound train usually had to rush across the overhead bridge lugging their suitcases, crates and food bags to catch the connecting train, which usually only stopped for what must be only 10 minutes.

Another highlight of the journey must surely be that stop in Ipoh, a big station with its army of food vendors shouting out their goods – each in their own unique sing song way. Inspite of the nasi lemak and fried chicken that Mak made, we’d always give in to the famous kueh pows with its chicken curry fillings.

The combination of the heat in the stuffy coach, the food, plus the chug, chug, chugging monotonous rhythm of the engine soon lulled us to sleep, only to be awakened by more sing song food vendors plying their trade along the platforms, some even jumping expertly on and off the train with their baskets placed precariously on their heads.

During one of my numerous trips home, I have had the pleasure to try the Senandong Malam and gosh, the gush of memories that came flooding back. One that surely remained until now is the look on Mak’s face when she realised that underneath her baju kurung, she still had a towel tied around her waist! I can’t remember whether she had her sarong on as well or not.

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Here, I almost always have a ritual before embarking on a train ride. Among the musts in the list of things to buy atthe station are mushroom croissants and coffee, a big packet of minstrels, a notebook and a book to read.

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Train journeys through Europe must certainly be the most beautiful, exhilarating experience. Given the chance, my husband would say no to the plane and would opt for the train anytime. Thus once we found ourselves on the Eurorail train from London to Budhapest, going through some of the most beautiful cities in Europe, such as Cologne, Vienna and Munich. We swore we’d make this journey again.

And once, courtesy of the German government, we were treated to a train journey from one city to another and the view from the window, as the train snaked its way along the Rhine, was just breathtaking. Old castles and historic abodes of what must be German Barons, dotted the highlands giving an air of mystery and charm while yatchs and ships sailed lazily along the deep blue mesmerising Rhine.

Holland holds yet another sort of charm for me. Travelling from The Hague to Rotterdam, for example, one can’t help but be fascinated by the creativity and talents of what I would call pop art – the miles and miles of colourful and beautiful graffities on embankments and walls along the Dutch railway lines. I just wonder about the message behind these writings. I wonder too about the artists themselves who took the risks to freely exhibit their talent at such dangerous places.

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Now I wonder what awaits me along the way to the ancient Roman city?

Friday 22 April 2005

Old chums revisited

I hold AuntyN responsible for this. Her piece on catching up with old friends provoked some powerful memories of days gone by. And actually gives me an excuse to rehash 'one' that I did earlier.

Anyway, two days ago, while I was busy trying and trying very hard to do my essay, my handphone was buzzing with sms's from 8000 miles away with messages like "kami dok poco poco ni!", "missing you and wish you are here"! These are from bosom friends of mine since Primary One. We have a website in which we rant about almost everything. If those days we talked about the latest perfume and how to combat pimples, now we share anxieties about the big C having lost friends along the way as well as the frightening and alarming and impending big M...hmmmm. Have a read while I continue with my essay!

THE voice at the end of the line sounded familiar. "It's Ek Ti, remember me? From Convent Alor Star. I'm staying at Malaysia Hall!" Of course I remember Ek Ti!

My brain did an automatch with the voice and a quick search came up with a picture of Ek Ti 24 years ago not updated. We promised to meet and catch up over a plate of nasi lemak at the Malaysia Hall canteen the next day.

But the night before the meeting, I dreamt of Ek Ti complete in her prefect's uniform, pony tail and all striding in to admonish me for my short skirt. Tan Ek Ti was on a brief stopover in London and like most Malaysian travellers, a refill of Malaysian food at the canteen is a must before continuing their journey to other destinations in Europe. I've met up with many of my former classmates this way as they troop up and down Europe either on business matters or for leisure.

I have always been proud of the fact that I'm still in touch with friends from as far back as Standard One in Sultanah Asma School Alor Star. Although it was only for a year before my father's transfer to Yen, we remain friends to this day.

I will always remember Jijah Pak Pin holding my hand on the first day of school. I had clung on to her as my mother headed for the bus stop and Pak Pin, as she is known among those from Class yesteryears remains the steadfast, strong and dependable character to all her friends. We still hold hands and cling on to each other when the need arises.

On my return to Alor Star, I opted for St Nicholas Convent more for the very challenging nature of ironing a convent's school uniform. Although that put Pak Pin and I as rivals, we met at sports meets at the local stadium to giggle over boys from Sultan Abdul Hamid College.

Much later, her home was mine as I stayed over with Muni and Lia after late night parties dancing to Santana music in our floral catsuits. To this day, my homecoming is never complete without a meeting with them. We'd drive around all the way back to Bangi singing to The Carpenters and reminisce over fun times in abandoned and quiet carparks.

Once, over tea at Yow Chuan Plaza in Kuala Lumpur, evergreen songs from the Seventies provided the perfect music for the small reunion. We were back being giggly teenagers as every song played provoked sweet and funny memories. "Huh, remember the one with the sweaty palms?", "Whaaaat? You fancied that nerddd???" and so on and so forth.

Husbands were warned of my return and had to find their own dinners as we talked, laughed and cried into the night recalling events our spouses had not been part of. Our husbands could never understand why when we meet, we laugh over sentences even before we finish uttering them and come up with strange and silly nicknames that would provoke even louder laughter.

My own husband opted out of a hastily arranged reunion at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Kuala Lumpur a few years ago, which brought together friends from my primary school, the Convent and Sultan Abdul Hamid College. Thanks to Pak Pin and Norlia's organisational skills, the boys downed their golf clubs just to be with us and left their spouses to look after their children.

Cik Na came out of confinement to join us - she who used to twirl my hair in the class is now somebody in the bank. There was Yazid without his Afro hairdo, now a big-time architect with lots of kids, Sharifah Nor Azian who keeps in touch yearly if only as a reminder of another birthday gone by and Hong Chu - lawyer turned remisier.

In Alor Star, Wan Salmiah is our trusted self-appointed secretary who could arrange a get-together at a drop of a hat. She got together about 25 ex-classmates from Primary One last year during my last trip back.

In London, I caught up with Syed, the prefect who smoked behind the bicycle shed. He is now a senior officer in the police force. Doi, our head prefect who turned a blind eye to goings-on behind the bicycle shed, is now head of a big bank. Sadly, my first meeting with him after a long time was when he visited his dying sister at a hospital in Birmingham. He, of course, did not lose any opportunity to remind me of my Special Angel days. And since then he'd organise a reunion during my homecomings.

As Ek Ti will testify, the Special Angels of St Nicholas Convent was a force to be reckoned with. With blue polka-dotted ribbons in our hair, we raced our mini bikes along the streets of Teluk Wan Jah for that bowl of ice kacang at Busuk's stall in front of Sultan Abdul Hamid College. Now I wonder whether we were there for Busuk's ice kacang or for a glimpse of the college boys. So, what's happened to the Special Angels? WZNA became a mother to her sister's children when her sister died tragically while swimming. Salomi, who was the first to get married and have children, went to varsity and made headlines as mother who was in the same class as her son and now holds a senior position in sports management. Then there is Siti Norina, the fashion icon in our circle and Sharifah Fadhillah, who fell in love with a fellow Collegian and now lives in Dhaka.

The Special Angels later morphed into The Mod Dots. As we were all quite spotty in those days, polka-dotted ribbons and spotty cheeks blended in very well. A recent picture of the now more matured Angels stands on my window sill, side by side with the one of us in mini skirts, taken in front of an old Ford belonging to our cookery teacher.

Recently, I was told of a big Mass Communication reunion. It must have been exciting as journalists met up with broadcasters, public relations officers and advertising moghuls, networking and exchanging business cards. I imagine designer spectacles being pulled out from expensive cases as the wearers scrutinised each card to see the bearer's position in the social and corporate ladder.

Aaaah, how I want to cling on to memories with a small circle of friends especially those who conspired with me in our Toyol sessions at the hostel and suffered sleepless nights together as the so-called orang minyak ran rampant in our minds and hostel rooms. And most of all those friends from hostel 3B who tolerated my rendition of "My Eyes Adore You..." from the shower after a session of barn dancing in the room. We phone up each other across the oceans, and even expletives sound sweet to the ear. Last week, Kudu and Ena had a farewell bash for Fati as she left the NST and of course the gang went, without me.

Two days ago, Lia, Pak Pin, Zuhurin and Muni poco poco'ed without me. Lia has since written in our website "Small group celebrated my birthday bash, but the celebration was BIG man! Lepas makan, kami adjourned ke Holiday Villa lounge and dengaq Fredo & the Flintstone. But no dinasaur music. Rancak. The girls (Muni, Mahan, Pak Pin, Zuhurin) had a great time dancing away. Aku tak leh rancak, baru operate. Tapi pasai dah jenis gedik, sikit sikit ada cuba juga menari. Hehe. I went back home early I pm, they stayed on."

The Sultan Abdul Hamid lot too is planning another reunion as a an old classmate is back from Melbourne. And I only get to read about it in our website. *sigh*

Sunday 17 April 2005

SEPET - Not a review

SEPET finally arrived with a big tub of jam tarts. Just the right combination. Before I start, just a warning that this is NOT a review but a long, long ramble down memory lane.
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Sepet - by Yasmin Ahmad

When SEPET was about to be released, almost every other blog that I hopped on to has the cover picture of the young lovers, Orkid and Ah Loong. Everytime I looked at the picture, my heart did a double take…Sharifah Amani is the exact replica of her mother Fatimah Abu Bakar – my soulmate, partner in crime, sidekick and more during our growing up years in campus and later as journalists in that big building in Jalan Riong.

The last time I saw Nani, was when she and sister Leya visited me in London. I knew that Leya was the one to follow her mother’s footsteps in acting. And of course she did. Then the last thing I heard, the whole family was already into it. Nani used to have long curly hair and looked more like her father. In fact they all do. But with hair straightened and long, the way she smiles and of course those sharp, barbed repartees she directed at one of her classmates in one of the scenes in SEPET, I knew she has inherited her mum’s famous traits!

Donkey years ago, Ena Samad, Fati and I strode into the newsroom to the desk of arwah Pak Cik Dahari Ali to report for duty . We fancied ourselves his Charlies’ Angels. Many a fun time was had there ooohing and aaahing over the likes of James Ritchie and Fauzi Omar, and much in awe of writers like Adibah Amin. Once in a while, we'd sneek a look into Lat's room to see the genius at work. I left in 1983 and last month, Fati packed up and left too. Ena and another close friend, Aishah Ali (mum to Jo of TooPhat) are still there to keep the UiTM Mass Comm flag flying. Now, it is time someone writes about this fine writer and talented actress.

The lass who couldn’t string two complete sentences in Malay when I first met her yonks ago was the Tun Kudu on stage, Maria in Shuhaimi Baba’s Drama Minggu Ini, the dancer in Jentayu and many more. And now I hear, she is one of the mentors in Akademi Fantasia and running a media consultancy, in between ferrying children to dancing classes, acting classes and so on.

While I have no doubt Fati taught Nani and Leya everything she knew about acting, let me enlighten you on some of the episodes that perhaps her children were not privy to.

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Orkid's mum and her sidekick (Mak Cik Blur)

It was fate that threw all of us not only in one class but in one room throughout the three years in ITM. There was Fati, Ina, Tini, Mia, Reza and me. Ena was our squatter from another block, joining our regular bash of country dancing, teasing the boys across the building with mirror reflections from our windows and typing our essays late into the night.

Fati’s talent was discovered early by Normah Nordin and Shuhaimi Baba during our Speech and Drama class. For a little girl, she has a loud voice. She started 'acting' in our advertising class, especially, pretending to be awake, while sleeping. Fati and Ena were famous for sleeping in class, and almost always got away with it. Her first appearance on stage was as Tun Kudu – a production by Shuhaimi Baba. But it was her off stage and off screen talents that I am about to talk about now.

She was a huge success as Tok Bomoh Siam’s assistant in a sting that we staged from room to room which culminated in a grand finale on the 13th floor of the multi storey building.

I will call this drama – Desperately Seeking Toyol, with Moi starring as Tok Moh Siam, as my Siamese accent was quite convincing. We’d hold our sessions in the middle of the night, with accomplices preparing our victims for the moment the toyol was to appear. I’d do my chants in Thai Malay, supported by Fati who could always be relied on to keep a straight face, although we were bursting at the sides. And of course when the ‘toyol’ appeared, screams could be heard echoing through the rubber estates of Shah Alam.

I will not reveal what happened (its in the Tok Moh Siam's Code of Ethics)– but suffice to say it was hilarious and during the grand finale, we were chased right into the toilets by Pak Cik guard.

We did our own stunts too. Once, when the lift to the multi-storey building was not working, we persuaded the workmen repairing the lift to allow us a ride ON the broken lift right up to the 13th floor. Now, how scary can that be?

A versatile actress and certainly very resourceful, our Fati is. Like all buddies, we had our showers together. For years she endured my rendition of “My Eyes Adore You” and never complained that I never knew the rest of the song. But one day, I decided to pull a fast one on Fati as she was hollering away in her cubicle, probably singing her favourite John Denver song. I took away her towel, night gown and everything. I do not know, till this day, how she made her way back to our room…probably wrapped in the shower curtain. But opening my cupboard that evening., there was this long haired creature staring back at me. Fati had hidden in there waiting for the right moment for revenge.

We were quite good vocally too and usually tested our talent in the canteen, singing along the blaring music from the loud speaker. But this was where, as a friend she let me down. Waiting in a long queue to the food counter, we sang along to the song playing on full blast . Penuh bersemangat and full of feelings you… “Just one look, and I ‘m feeing high, high, highhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..” at which point, one of the adiks behind the counter, who must have been watching us, switched off the radio, leaving me on a highnote, highhhing like a hyena all by myself. Eyes were staring at Mak Cik Blur, (who was then, already Blur) and Fati stood there and just laughed, nearly wetting the floor!

Oh dear!

For those of you too young to know, in those days we had Mamakteria just outside the campus, tucked in between the rubber estates, with a slippery lane winding down to the Klang-Kuala Lumpur Highway. We’d have roti telur and teh tarik at mamakteria when money was low but ate in style at the cafeteria when the budget allowed us. Anyway, after the sessions at Mamakteria, we’d make our way down to the highway to hitch a ride to Kuala Lumpur. The boys would usually hide behind the trees as we tried our charms on the drivers. It usually worked. But once Ena tried it alone, and was foolish enough to take the offer by a motorcyclist, who THEN, as they approached a quiet stretch of Shah Alam, asked her politely, if he could have a kiss!!! Seram!

I’d accompany Fati to her rehearsals and I supposed that was when I too was dragged into Drama Minggu Ini. During my stint at RTM, I used to wait for Shuhaimi for a lift home and she’d ask me to read parts supposedly for another actress who didn’t turn up. And so, that was my half hour of fame…a supporting role in Drama Minggu Ini that many people old enough would remember. I once went to visit an accused in the dock of a courtroom, and he asked, “Eh, bukan you Kakak Mior dalam Drama tu?”

We learnt quite fast to cope with being small time celebrities. On one field trip to a Felda Scheme, we were besieged by autograph hunters…waahhhh, macam Cik Siti sekarang ni lah agaknya!

Anyway, we all survived and ended up in the NST. I supposed Dr Nordin Sopiee, (now a Tan Sri?), was wise enough to see that he’d have trouble if he put us together in Jalan Riong and banished me to the Penang Bureau. And then of course, I came here as husband was tasked with setting up another NST bureau in London.

(Yikes – too long! Will end now, promise!)
Anyway, Fati, you have done well with Leya, Nani and all and with your life too. Just to thank you for the couch and your bed that I crawled into early in the mornings after the all night editings with Shumi on my first documentary. Thank you for sticking your neck out when I always, always sent in my columns a little late and last but not least thank you for those words of encouragement when I was so nervous to go out on my first date with that special someone from the office. You said threateningly: You tak keluark dengan dia, you kena!” You know I did and you know that I am still with him.

Fato – I rove you too!
Tok Moh

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The way we were: Ena Samad, Aishah Ali, Fatimah Abu Bakar and Mak Cik Blur

Saturday 16 April 2005

London Underground cruisers - beware!

Waiting for the doors of the tube to open and spill us out on to the platform, I caught sight of this elderly gentleman who has become an almost common feature of the London underground. He could be anyone’s father or grandfather. He was wearing the same tired looking suit which had seen better days. And the same imploring look in his eyes, begging sympathy from anyone who cared to give him the time of day.

He found it in a young man of similar ethnic background and religion. The young man was about to part with his £20 note.

As the younger Asian boarded the tube, I knew he had become the latest victim of what I shall now call the London Underground Cruiser (LUC).

As LUC pocketted his bounty, quite a bit for that time of the morning, he looked around for more victims, usually Asians, and mostly Muslims. And although I was pressed for time, I waited for him to look at me. And true enough, to him, I looked an easy and almost vulnerable target. He’d play the same religious card again. With the same begging look in his eyes.

“Assalamualaikum, I am a Muslim. I lost my ticket and need to go to Gatwick,” said LUC. I must admit, he is getting a bit better. Usually, he needed money for Heathrow but I supposed Gatwick will mean a lot more money to pocket than the normal fare for Heathrow.

LUC, if you must know, has used this line on me and many other fellow Muslims using the London underground, many times before. I supposed his memory is failing and he tends to forget who he had ‘done’ before. You can lose a ticket once, twice may be, but ten or twenty times?? That’s a tad careless, innit uncle LUC?

“Wa’alaikumsalam,” I seethed. “Didn’t you get £20.00 from that young boy? And didn’t you ask me several times before for money to Heathrow? And now Gatwick?” It was difficult trying to keep my voice down and even the usually expressionless robotlike morning commuters, were now giving me looks.

The crumpled look on his face registered recognition. After all, just two weeks ago, he got on the tube and sat beside me. Realising it was the phanthom of the London Underground, I buried my head in the Evening Standard, ignoring his rantings. He tapped the handrest several times. I made donno. He gave salam and I answered silently. But no. He was not going to get anything from me anymore.

LUC is one of a number of conmen making a lucrative living cruising the London underground this way. My husband has even approached him to ask him about his welfare. Any family? No one who knows what he is up to? He pleaded unemployment. Many people are unemployed. He looks strong enough and healthy enough to work in a grocery or a newsagent. The likelihood is that he is also receiving unemployment benefit AND at the same time earn a bit more this way.

Just last week, at another underground station – Charing Cross. The platform was packed with evening commuters rushing home. I was busy reading a text message when I heard a salam.

Looking up, I saw a smartly dressed man from what I gather must be the African continent. He was smiling. I returned his salam and was expecting him to ask me questions most tourists and visitors ask.

His name is Dr Ibrahim he said. A fellow Muslim. Also, he had lost his ticket to Gatwick.
Now, what is it about Gatwick???? Is it supposed to be a code for something? Is there something happening there that I don’t know?

As if my mailbox is not enough for the likes of Dr Ibrahim! I already have enough emails from those sons and daughters of ex-presidents or former kings who have millions and gold bars locked away and are willing to share them with me. And now they are hounding me on the London Underground platforms!

I mumbled my apologies and his smiling face turned dark with rage. I thank God that the train pulled in and I escaped. As the Bakerloo line train left the platform, I saw him approach yet another one…another fellow Muslim.

Others plying the route are mothers with sleeping toddlers in their slings. Again, they approach you with salams and sob stories about husbands and families captured in Bosnia. Usually, these are in bad handwriting on cards and papers that they carry around with them. I have stopped feeling sad for them after reading about how our contribution is funding their bungalows and expensive cars in their home country which is NOT Bosnia.

With people like these around, it is sometimes difficult to summon sympathy and recognise the genuine ones. Yesterday, on the mainline train back from Staplehurst, a smartly dressed woman said she lost her wallet and her ticket. I thought to myself, here we go again. Another woman passenger who was writing her journal all the way from Marden, continued with her task. The man in front of me opened his eyes and then continued with his sleep. Apparently, this is a genuine case but no one took any notice anymore.

On the way home, a young tired looking man shook his bucket full of coins while he made his way along the tube. On his white overcoat was sticker that says, ST BARTS RAGGING WEEK. He even had a permit to ask for donation. He announced that he was collecting donations for breast cancer, children with cancer….

He needn’t say anymore. Everyone dug deep into their pockets. I have no qualms about this one.

I shouldn't really underestimate the resourcefulness of uncle LUC. He might just turn up in a pair of blue scrubs, an old Pride oil bucket and work his way down the length of the tube.

Wednesday 13 April 2005

Ayam Golek

Dear All. This is in reply to AuntyN's request that I show my Ayam Golek. She showed hers here auntyN and now I show mine! This is just a preview ...will now go and look for the recipe!

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My late father would have been proud of me. I made this ayam golek last raya. When he was around, Pak would always make Ayam Golek for the meal after prayers. Please be advised that the recipe handed down to me is one without any exact measurements. You ask my mum, and she says, alah, just a bit of this, and a handful of that. So, here goes:

One whole chicken
10 cloves of garlic
Shallots - a little less than the above
(Blend the above)

5 Tablespoon korma curry powder
One tablespoon of ground pepper - not too fine
Two tins of coconut milk
Fried shallots
Lemon grass

Boil baby potatoes, carrots, eggs, sweetcorn and mushroom

Marinade chicken with tumeric and salt.
Fry the blended onions and ginger. Add in korma curry powder and pepper.
Give it a good stir. Add in lemongrass, salt and sugar.

Put in the chicken. Immerse the chicken in the gravy. Add in the two tins of coconut milk and let it cook until there's only athird of the gravy left. The chicken should be almost cooked by now.

Place chicken in a baking tray and place it under the grill. Once in a while baste it with the gravy.

When it is nearly done, add in the boiled vegetables and eggs. Sprinkle the fried onions. Garnish.

You can either pour the rest of the gravy on to the chicken or put it in a bowl.
You can eat it with hot french bread or rice!

If you like it, tell your friends, if you don't pls dont tell me!

Tuesday 12 April 2005

Sunday in Hyde Park

Last Sunday, the sun was out and against my better judgement, I left my half completed essay and threw caution to the wind and subjected myself to the attacks of zillions of pollens. Now, I am paying for my sins, sneezing and wheezing as I try to finish my assignment. Thus, this photo blog while I am away.
ps Honeytar...enjoy!
pps the pictures are not in any particular order.

Hyde Park in Spring

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A well trodden path

In bloom
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Whatever they're called, they're lovely ...from a distance!

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Too, too near for me!! Aaaatchooooo!

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Love this one!

Where are the durckkkkS??

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The Graceful one!

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A nut all to myself!

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Flowers for Diana on Charles & Camilla's Day (who they???)

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One smoking dog and a very thirsty one

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Elves in Elfin Oak - carved in 1911

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Tea anyone?

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By the pond

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A lovely day out for all

Sunday 10 April 2005

Shocked and Humiliated at Heathrow

It is with great sadness that I read a story in the Malay Mail - Shocked and humiliated."

I wrote this a long time ago but the story of the traumatic experience of a Malaysian family at Heathrow sounds sadly familiar. What I have reproduced and adapted below is not a judgement of the family but rather what I have seen and heard and witnessed myself.

"WE have heard numerous stories about how and why people are turned away at the airport. Most certainly deserved it but many were quite unnecessary.

Many spent a lot of money on air tickets and months of planning only to be deported because of some inappropriate or wrong answers that they gave at the immigration desks.

Well, if you enter the country as a tourist but at the same time reveal some intention of searching for work or cannot make your mind up about the length of stay or what you want to do in Britain, then there is every reason for the immigration to be suspicious.

There have certainly been cases where a mother and daughter argued for all to hear about their reasons for visiting as well as about their duration of stay. The mother said she wanted to stay for a month, while the daughter said, she'd rather stay for three months.

The immigration officer was only too happy to settle it for them by giving them only one day before taking the next flight home.

Then there's the simple case of not knowing who you're visiting. A young boy was all excited when invited by his aunt to visit her in London. He was asked his aunt's name but could only offer Mak Ngah and could not even recall her full name. On top of that he didn't even know her full address. It was not what the immigration wanted to hear but it certainly gave them enough grounds to send him packing.

It is all very well for us here to invite relatives to come for a holiday. But I have learnt that it is also our duty and responsibilities to supply our visitor with as much information about ourselves as possible in case our intended guests are stopped and subjected to questions. Be definite about how long you want to stay and what you want to do. Give strong reasons why you want to go back and not stay to find work. If you have work waiting for you, say so. If need employer's letter, your bank statements , whatever! Show them that you are not here to be a burden on their welfare system.

It is sad and frustrating when your reasons and intentions are genuine. My own mother was subjected to such a treatment that I never wanted her to visit me again.

It all began when my nephew wanted to visit. He had enough money, place to stay and even us in attendance when he applied for a visa. BUT the officer concerned saw that I was pregnant, and made up her mind that my nephew was coming with us to help us babysit. Thus a lengthy interview about his intentions for visiting. Even when he showed the amount of money he had, the officer concerned was not satisfied and wanted to see his account book to see that he had actually withdrawn the money from there. And as if that was not sufficient, a letter from his employer. As his employer was in Penang, he said, could he return the next day with the letter? The answer was yes, but swift as a lighting, she put a chop cancelling the visa. Now that would look good, wouldn't it...a cancelled visa!

The next day, with employer's letter AND bank book, he saw another officer - but because of the cancelled visa - he was again subjected to another lengthy interrogation. Finally he was given exactly a month.

Then when my own mother wanted to visit, I truly believe they had my record on their file. They made her sign a letter saying she would not extend her stay no matter what. This we did not know until we found a letter with her signature. Now, my mother could not read nor write and so how on earth was she to understand what she had signed?

There was also a case of a young girl who was asked by the sister to come here to babysit. She was briefed, of course and she was just to say that she was visiting a friend, and NO, she did not have any relatives. Th eofficer asked for her address book. And because her surname matched one in the address book, she too headed for home.

Many, many more - especially those who mentioned visiting relatives who have restaurants and businesses here. These officers can't be blamed for being overzealous in carrying out their duties. I am sure that when you mention a name of a restaurant, a business and the location, that usually rings alarm bells for them.

There's plenty - one funny on about a film crew who came with obvious intentions to do filming but did not ask prior permission. When questioned at the airport, they said the huge big cameras were for recording their children on holiday!

A sad case I heard recently was that of a boy on whose person some letters were found. One letter was written by his sister, who invited him over to work. The other was from his mother - the contents broke my heart as I translated it for the officer. A mother's hope that the son could find employment to help her and her invalid husband in the kampong. Common sense could have told him to leave the letter behind. But better still, given his age, he need not have gone through all that pretense of coming for a holiday when all he wanted to do was work.

As a young man of only 23, and coming from Malaysia, he could easily come in as a tourist, then enrol as a student and with that, he is allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours. It's all legal.
And that saves the trouble of having to play the cat-and-mouse game that most illegals play with the authorities.

Then, there is of course the Working Holidaymakers Scheme. Now, why this is not widely known is quite puzzling. Under this scheme, if you're aged between 17 and 27 and you're from a Commonwealth country, you're allowed to come to Britain to holiday as well as work.

However, this will need to be applied from home and once given, you can stay for two years. Of course, participants of this scheme have no right to bring in their spouse nor switch into work permit employment at the end of the two years. They will also need to have their return ticket.
However, recognising what migrant workers have to offer, the Government had also raised the age limit to 30 and the term of stay extended and area of employment be expanded.

Under the Holidaymakers scheme, nearly 40,000 young people from the Commonwealth come to Britain for a holiday of up to two years. They can work in restaurants, hotels and generally in low-skilled employment and at the same time experience life in Britain.

In 1990, according to reports released by the British Home Office , only 30 Malaysians participated and in 2000, the number rose to only 120. Yet, many would rather try their luck illegally.

The British Government realise that by having this organised and properly-managed legal migration, they are not only solving recruitment problems but also tackling the issue of illegal immigrants.

Day after day, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants risk their lives to come into Britain to find work. Once they succeed in gaining entry, they find work. But what kind of life does one lead when at the very whiff of an official figure, one jumps out of the nearest window? It is so unnecessary, especially when these two schemes make it possible for one to work and at the same time enjoy one's holidays. But perhaps, for some, there is no excitement in this!

Finally, I'll leave you with this joke thatleft a funny taste in one visitor's mouth When asked by the Sikh immigration officer at Heathrow how long he was staying, this joker said: Not as long as you!

Because he had the necessary papers BUT because the officer has the power to interrogate him, he was questioned for three hours before allowed out.

So, please, be prepared, be sure and precise about what you are here for. And bring the right papers. If you are not sure, contact the BritishHigh Commission. Ask. Its not easy anymore.

Friday 8 April 2005

Cookie? What Cookie? And where?

I wonder whether anyone else had the same problems accessing blogspot today. Tried everything, turned off PC, turned on PC, changed browser. Zilt. The cats could sense my withdrawal symptoms and ran for cover. All I got was "No Available Data" and site not found or something like that. Couldn't update blog, couldn't post comment. Even sought Spasti's help to access blog from Tumasek...she could but I still couldn't. All the while, ideas for blog spilling out of my ears. So, I had to sms my very own Mr Fix-it, Ijun who promptly advised me to go to (Okay - Ijun, another pix for you on the way.) Aha! And there were a few wise words there, which unfortunately did not mean much to me. Clear cookie, it says. Cookie? What cookie? Where do I find cookie? What? In the browser? Who on earth keeps cookie in browser?

Was hyperventilating again when one sayang mama came back from Friday prayers to my rescue. He had his Bluetooth, he announced. Bluetooth? What Bluetooth? Shall we make an appointment with the dentist? During my time, we had wisdom tooth.

Sigh! I had at least five fabulous intros to five wonderful entries to my blog...(even if I say so myself, lah!) One about A London Cabby's Tale, one about The Book Village at Hay On Wye, one about my days at the Beeb, for it was 14 years ago this year that I said goodbye to my loyal listeners (about five of them!) before they turned the transmitter, one about a Beautiful Mind...and one about my fascination with the lift repairman at my Uni.

But now I am too tired to blog. At least I have updated it and spare Cik Siti from anymore intrusive eyes.
Kak Teh

Am off to Oxford to see The King and I

Sunday 3 April 2005

Haiya Cik Siti, aahh, saya manyak penat....


“You doing a piece to camera today?” asked Bob in that Yorkshire drawl of his.“Me? Just look at these,” I said pointing to the bags under the eyes. I have more bags than Selfridges and John Lewis put together.

The last time I did a piece to camera was at the sea front of Dover where Malik did his 17 hour feat across the Channel to Calais. (I did ask him whether he had heard of the Eurostar). Malik got his datukship and I got lots of jibes from friends and family who saw a tired looking old Mak Cik signing off by the quiet seafront, the echoes of Malaysia Boleh long gone. I looked more battered then Malik after his swim!

“Why no make up or anything?”, “Why you look fat?”, “Why you wear that dress?”, “Why you look tired?” Why? Why ?Why?

Well, we waited days before the elements would allow Malik to swim, by which time the toing and froing to Dover and the stress of waiting had taken its toll. And when it did happen, it was at 1am when he swam into the darkness. And we only left until we no longer saw the white dot that was his luminous white cap bobbing in the cold water.

It was well after 2 am that I did that piece to camera. No, I didn’t have a make-up artist at my disposal and I didn’t care, cos the news was more about the first Malaysian to swim the Channel. I was only there to tell the folks back home.

Why am I suddenly ranting about Malik’s swim when all Bob asked was about a piece to camera at THE Royal Albert Hall?

Well, I supposed the media frenzy here in London during his historic feat was similar to that of Cik Siti’s visit and her debut at the RAH and the stress and strain just as much.

Unlike Cik Siti’s pre-set date at the prestigous hall, Malik’s plan to conquer the Channel was very much at the mercy of the elements. Rough weather and cancellations led to frayed nerves and lack of sleep – LV under the eyes.

(btw – I must add here, just made a call to Cik Siti who is at this very minute at the lounge of Heathrow leaving for Malaysia. And guess what??? This Kuala Lipis lass has bagged another, not one, not two BUT THREE Augerah Bintang Popular!!! I was summoned to get her reactions.)

OK, where were we before we were rudely interuppted?

I met up with Cik Siti and entourage a day after her arrival and introduced her to the BBC World Service, Indonesian section, whose listeners form a huge portion of her fan base. Rumours has it that when there were demonstrations in the streets of Jakarta against Malaysia, many too were carrying banners professing their undying love for her. So there – music conquers all.

The next few days, she made two appearances at Oriental City and an afternoon at Malaysia Hall, causing quite a frenzy among fans. Macho men pretended not to care, old Mak Ciks considered possibilites of having her as daughter-in-law, and Bob couldn’t get his lens away from her delicious sweet face. I badly needed cut-aways and had to nudge him to train his camera elsewhere too. Such is the effect Cik Siti has on people.

Both sound engineers at the BBC and my editor were mesmerised by her voice.

Can someone so beautiful and talented be so nice and untouched by all these craze around her? She has to shake hands non-stop, sign autographs non stop and still smiles and entertains her fans! Isn’t there a flaw in this creature of near perfection? Well, I can hear someone shout “Her English!” .

True, but I have no problems with that. How often have we heard Italians or Spanish or non English speaking celebs speak a non perfect English. Sometimes, it is even cute to the ears. Give her time, and she will learn. Making fun of her won't help.I believe Latta Mangeskar(sp)performed and spoke in Hindi throughout her concert here. so, Nahi problem!

Kak Teh with cameraman Bob and soundman EdImage hosted by
Anyway, things were building up for the 1st of April. Booked Bob for 1pm to go straight to Albert Hall and catch Cik Siti's interview with the Beeb. But Fazley, ehem, ehem, said the RAH has not given permission for the Malaysian media to be present. So we hung around Malaysia Hall, bought snacks and drinks for the long wait. Then, drove to Albert Hall to meet another crew and we positioned ourselves strategically. One crew at door 6 for arrivals of VIP's and the other at the back of the hall. Both got very good response from Siti die hard fans - the number one being the Sultan of Pahang, who said: She is my number one superstar!
The hall, as expected, was not full. Perhaps only about 2,500 people. We were told 500 seats are usually blocked and reserved by seasonal ticket holders.

A section was filled by fans-cum-sitistalkers, who won sms competition and were flown in by SNP. They caused quite a riot everywhere they went carrying albums, banners and sporting T-shirts with Cik Siti smiling tantalisingly.

We were only allowed to film the first two songs and the last two songs.
Personally, I did not recognise most of the songs as they are new. Am more familiar with Bisikan Asmara, Purnama Merindu and of course Cindai. So, in a way was quite disappointed with the opening, although I must say she looked stunning. The schoolgirl like lass eating chips with me by the roadside café in Holborn was transformed into a princess on stage.

A glittery emcee for the night
Come the joget numbers, you couldn’t get me to sit still and encouraged by Mahadzir Lokman, Image hosted by we were soon registering 6.3 on the Richter Scale. When my niece phoned all the way from Malaysia to ask whether I had behaved myself, of course, I said I did.

The concert was nearly over when Siti started her lengthy tributes from Habib Jewels to Jimmy Choo and work was just starting for us after the enjoyment.

Image hosted by Anak mak
We waited for her at a room reserved for the media, only to be told that fans had blocked the entrance. So, we were moved a few floors up where I met her parents for the first time. I had to congratulate them, especially the mother for bringing up such talented and well behaved children. This is a mother to mother thing.

Image hosted by The timing of the CEO of the RAH couldn’t have been more perfect when he interupted our press conference saying that the RAH would be delighted to invite her back, and added that she has joined a list of famous singers there. Wow – I saw everyone scribbling and circling that as the intro for the story.

After a two hour routine and still she can look like this?Image hosted by
After the press conference, Siti obligingly posed again for us very demanding journos. No signs of stress or even the slightest annoyance or tantrums.

Bob dropped me home at nearly one am and crashed out immediately. For once, my dream did not have Percayalah as background music. I must have been very tired.

Woke up in last night’s clothes just in time to send off a story to a paper and copies to two others, with a message : if I can't make it – translate and adapt!

Was about to jump into waiting taxi when I got a frantic call from editor saying story not attached to email. Spoke through mail box to hubby to resend. In taxi, scribbled script for voice over and reached Camden Lock APTN building just in time for edit. Gordon the editor was also in last night's clothes and looked as tired. He had been on standby the whole night for the Pope to die. Luckily, he waited right after Siti’s solo debut at RAH. The pope, that is, not Gordon, but Gordon was soon refreshed after replaying close up shots of Siti on the monitor. Hey, we have serious work here, Gordon. If I was hoping things would go smoothly, then I was wrong…I had misplaced the most important tape of the press conference. Luckily there’s a backup one from the other crew. Bob phoned up to say, he found it on the floor of his car. Well done and satelite time was in an hour’s time. But as always, between Bob, Gordon and I, we managed to reduce a whole day’s work and two hours magical performance to about three minutes. Once the satelite feed was in process, I thought I could relax until another editor phoned up to have a new angle to the story. Haiyaaaa..

When Cik Siti fulfilled her dreams to sing at the RAH, that’s not the end of the story. She was invited to the Malaysian High Commision for high tea. And remember, Kak Teh was in last night’s clothes. Stopped by at one of many Indian shops along the street, bought a kurta with enough glitters and set off on my way to outshine Cik Siti. Also, I have to convey numerous salams and messages to her. An example is: Tell her, my father says she is his cucu. Another one: If she is not interested in Fazley, tell her I am available..

Oh, Cik Siti,when is the RAH inviting you back?