31 August 2009

Hopes for Malaysia's 52nd birthday

So Malaysia turns 52 today.

Many of the generation who witnessed the liberation of then Malaya are still alive today, just much older. I am sure a great number of Malaysians wish that our beloved Tunku Abdul Rahman, Bapa Malaysia, were still alive today as well.

No doubt, Malaysia has achieved much. But what has the nation also lost along the way?

I wish and hope for Malaysia and her people, that democracy will continue to be preserved - please, political parties fighting to form the government, don't be sore losers. That there would be freedom of expression. That corruption and cronysm at the highest levels of government would be reduced (to eliminate it would be impossible, so let's just be realisitic). That Malaysia's politicians would stop playing the race card - remember that Malaysia is unique and achieved its independence with the promise of upholding and protecting its multi-racial and muti-religion makeup. That Malaysia's leaders dare move the nation forward to succeed in the global arena, and not just limit the country to petty domestic issues for the sake of re-election. That the government invest in and execute sound education policies.

I was born in Malaysia, I am Malaysian, I have served my country in the civil service - Happy Birthday Malaysia, and may God bless those who helm the country with wisdom, vision and conscience.

29 August 2009

Criticism - taking it positively

Now, that's not an easy thing to do, taking criticism positively and smilingly. Even gently worded suggestions may be hard to take. Especially when it comes from (a well meaning, I would add) MIL. It's just one of those things. It probably has to do with ego, self esteem, pride and the fact that sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice to be told that "yes, hey, you did a good job and I have NOTHING further to suggest for you to improve on."

An example: on inspecting our garden, MIL pointed out that the filter for the pond was poorly designed. That point was not however, directed at me. The recipient of that criticism merely acceded to her point.
She then went on to note that certain plants should be repotted and branches pruned, and that the carpet grass was sprouting some weeds. Now, I am not unaware of these plant issues and indeed, my maid and I are primarily responsible for caring for our rather large garden. My MIL on the other hand has 2 maids and a gardener and a DIL who lives with her (who doesn't work and doesn't have kids), and still there are times when she comments that her garden is not adequately maintained! Imagine me - one maid, 2 kids, 3 dogs, garden, no gardener. I feel I manage my household, on the balance, reasonably, so I am rather piqued that she should highlight such points. Maybe she thinks I am not aware of them and perhaps I should really take her critisim constructively and graciously.

Then comes the comparison - which is a weak point, I would confess, but I can't help it. The DIL who lives with my MIL doesn't work, and I have never seen her do a kilojoule worth of gardening or cleaning (she does take snapshots of the beautiful flowers in the garden when they are in bloom). Not even something as light as trimming off dead flower stems. While I have hoed, and weeded, and planted beds of seedlings, and carried decorative rocks to augment the appearance of the garden, not to mention repotting and getting into the pond to place my aquatic plants! And my maid and I bathe our 3 dogs once a fortnight while the dogs over at MIL's are never bathed (despite the huge workforce over there). Save for one favourite dog which the DIL does bathe. Yet, I don't hear anything about the DIL not doing enough around the house.

Is it just me being over sensitive? Breathe, focus, positive vibes...

28 August 2009

August school holidays ramblings

It's almost over, the August school holidays. Because of Merdeka day, the kiddies get an extra day off on Monday.

It has been a rather muted holiday period, I feel. On account of the still-spreading H1N1, activities outside of the home have been limited. We made a trip to Toys R Us, One Utama (there's no Toys R Us in Ipoh), between 10:15 to 11:30 and dashed home before more people came to the shopping centre. But the place was quieter than usual, anyway. Most people must be more wary about going out these days. Other than eating out a few times, the kids just relaxed and played at home. They don't complain, though, as they like being home together.

Nobody seems to know whether the H1N1 has peaked in Malaysia or is the worst yet to come. Nobody wants to order a shutdown of schools or public life, fearing the losses the economy might suffer. I just read that the planned vaccination program for H1N1 in Australia is facing problems as the govt won't underwrite or indemnify doctors who administer the vaccines in the event there are side effects from the vaccine. Of course the vaccination program can't proceed unless doctors are insured. It's much more litigous over there than here in Malaysia, where a doctor here could make a mistake that causes a child to lose her arm and still could continue to practise medicine without too much pain/ punishment for the doctor. If that happened in Australia, you can be sure the doctor will be sued and possibly stripped of his licence.

It's been unseasonably wet this week. Good for the plants I suppose, and it saves us from watering. But too much grey skies and pitter-pattering rainfall takes a toll on spirits. Makes one ruminate on things that usually would not enter the mind. I hope it will be a sunny, cheery day tomorrow.

27 August 2009

Genji @ PJ Hilton

While in KL over the current school holidays, we quickly made a reservation for dinner at Genji Japanese Restaurant, given the scarcity of good Japanese food in Ipoh. We were not disappointed.

We were booked for the buffet dinner on Saturday for the 6-7.45pm slot. The second slot is from 8-10pm. The ambience inside Genji was soothing and calm. The wait staff were attentive and friendly. Our kids were really excited to be able to choose from the array of food displayed.

The sashimi and sushi were fresh, as were the oysters. I had 5 oysters with some lemon squeezed onto them - delicious! The tempuras were very well done as were the deep fried soft shell crabs. The prawn tempura wins top marks for being fresh and crisp. The stir fried beef was tender and tasty, while my little girl had 3 helpings of soupy udon, and 2 cups of chawan mushi. She enjoyed dipping her marshmallow sticks into warm melted chocolate. My boy had his fill of sushi and explored the well-stocked dessert table.

The time just flew, and we left satisfied with the quality of the buffet. We will definitely go back for more, next trip.

18 August 2009

Sun shield for the face

I never really liked applying sun shield on my face, despite all the advice to do so. But since my son started school and with me fully employed as his chauffeur, I have had to start applying sun shield to protect myself from Malaysia's unrelenting sun. My freckles have invited more of their friends to sit on my face, some really dark ones too. Woe!

A dematologist recommended Vanicream Sunscreen. While it works, it is not very pleasant to use as the consistency of the cream is heavy and thick, making it difficult to spread over your face. Vanicream Sunscreen also leaves a very white residue on the face. Clinique's Super City Block scores top marks in terms of ease of spreading and its matte brown finish. It really gives you a natural glow.

You might have read articles, debates and concerns about the amount of chemicals used in sun shields. Exploring for other safe sun shields, I've tried MyChelle's Sun Shield, which uses Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, naturally occurring mineral compounds. I am quite happy with MyChelle as it is easy to use, protects against the sun and doesn't leave my face looking pale.

Another mineral-based sun shield I've tried is Desert Essence Organics' Age Reversal SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen. It also contains Vitamin E and antioxidants. My only gripe - still too white on the face.

15 August 2009

Kizuna Japanese Restaurant

Since moving to Ipoh, we have not eaten Japanese here. We had initially planned to go to Kedai Makan Sri Maju for the beef brisket noodles tonight but due to some delay, we could not get there early enough. And on weekends, it is notoriously difficult to get a table there if you don't arrive early enough. So a change of plan was needed - out of the blue, hubby said why not try a Japanese restaurant near Tesco. Wow! A decent Jap restaurant nearby? The kids were excited too.

Before we went, I did a quick check on the blogs. I read 2 blogs by Ipoh-ites who reviewed Kizuna quite well. To be safe, I tried to call ahead for a reservation but they were fully booked! Just walk in...they said.

We had the soft shell crab roll (RM6), which was quite good. But the cheese korokke (a fried cheese ball) was more of a potato ball than cheese ball (RM9). The chicken katsu don (RM12) had generous slices of cripsy fried chicken and seaweed pieces on top of the rice, but the taste was heavy on mushrooms which threw the balance off. I had the fried bento set (RM24.80) which had 4 slices of sashimi, shredded cabbage salad, and several pieces of prawn, squid and vegetables that were crumbed and fried - unfortunately, the batter was much too thick. We also ordered extra chawan mushi (RM5) for the kids. Hubby didn't say much about his gyu shoga bento set (RM24.80).

After reading what the blogs had said, I was quite disappointed with the quality of food at Kizuna. As you can see from the prices, it isn't cheap either.

Where are H1N1 clusters in Malaysia?

Govt to weigh pros and cons of H1N1 disclosure (theStar, 15 Aug 2009)
PUTRAJAYA: Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will meet with Health Ministry officials to discuss if there is a need to disclose to the public the specific areas where many influenza A(H1N1) cases have been reported.
Muhyiddin said there was a need to look into whether providing such information to the public would be beneficial or would cause panic.
Furthermore, he said, even if the affected areas were disclosed, it did not mean that those in other areas could let their guard down and stop taking the necessary precautions.
“We have passed the containment stage and are currently in the mitigation stage.
“The percentage (of the spread of the flu) is still small, but it is still worrying and should not be taken lightly because it is life-threatening,” he told a press conference here after launching the Crime Prevention Campaign here yesterday.
He was responding to a call by Pahang Regent Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah for the Government to make known the stage the country was in due to the spread of the flu so that people would know the severity of the situation.

In this age where the dissemination of correct information is important and crucial, I believe that the govt should in fact be upfront about where clusters of local transmissions of H1N1 are. The official line used is that the govt does not want to create panic. Let's face it, the information will get out, sooner or later, and if not via official govt disclosure, it will be through the grapevine, word of mouth, sms blasts or email circulation.

Responsible and official disclsoure will serve as a caution for people not to visit the affected areas if there is no necessity for the public to go there. Would the govt knowingly want Malaysians to go to affected areas and increase the risk of exposure and further transmissions? Remember all the criticism directed towards China for their opaque and belated communications regarding SARS?

I hope Tan Sri Muyyiddin will make the appropriate decision. Thank you, Regent of Pahang, for the suggestion.

11 August 2009

H1N1 in Malaysia

Published: Tuesday August 11, 2009 MYT 12:21:00 PM
A(H1N1): Death toll now 38 with six more deaths
PUTRAJAYA: The death toll due to the Influenza A (H1N1) now stands at 38 with six more deaths reported over the last 24 hours.
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican said new cases recorded also stood at all time high with 270 bringing the total number of cases to 2, 253.

The above was reported in the Star's online news feed today. Since a week ago, the fatality stats have been climbing steadily, as has the rate of infection. 270 new cases in the last 24 hours!

But reporting has been muted and the govt's response has merely been that they are aware of the situation, that screening may not be done on everyone with flu symptoms , only those at risk are warded while others impose self quarantine and receive outpatient treatment. The Ministry of Education said that they will start to distribute thermometers and face masks to schools, ensuring that every school has at least one (1) thermometer. One thermometer for a whole school??

Malaysia has experienced SARS and the bird flu in the past. But what proactive steps have been rolled out to ensure minimal spread of infectious diseases among our children in schools?

I understand that a neighbouring country which also suffered through SARS and bird flu has established clear guidelines and action to be taken by schools in the event of the spread of disease. Such as ensuring each and every student has a thermometer (not an entire school sharing one thermometer), checking students' temperatures twice a day in school and sending those with fever home.

The August school holidays are approaching and with the H1N1 situation worsening, I would hope that the govt would consider closing schools early for a 2-week holiday instead of the usual 1-week.

Cake houses

There are several cake houses in Ipoh. Of course you will see the chain-franchise types like King's, La Manila, Secret Recipe and Baskin Robbins. But I tried 2 family-run bakeries in Ipoh Garden.

The first was Seasons Cake House, which sits along the same row of shop houses in Ipoh Garden as 7 Eleven. The first time, we bought a Power Rangers 3-D helmet cake for my boy. Hmm, can't say that the helmet turned out quite as I would have imagined. The second time this year, we bought a Thomas Tank cake for my son. The rectangular picture was cute enough but for both cakes, much too sweet.

Then later this year for my girl's birthday, I decided to try a different cake house. It sits on the same row as Maybank in Ipoh Garden and is called Yohan, about 2 doors away from KFC. I ordered girls' perennial favourite icon, Barbie, as the theme for the cake. It turned out beautifully and everyone who came for dinner that night ooh and aahed at the cake. And the orange sponge cake was light, tasty and just right in terms of the texture of the cream as well as sweetness. Of course the birthday girl got to keep the Barbie in the cake too!

My choice would be Yohan in Ipoh Garden.

08 August 2009

Under the tree, Jalan King

Just got back from lunch with the family. We went to Jalan King, Pasir Pinji, where there is a collection of hawker stalls. The place has seen some improvement as there is now a zinc roof for more cover.

We ate at the fried and wet yong tau foo (char liu and sap liu) stall. It is always busy and the sign says it is open from about 9am to 5pm. There is a big selection of fish paste stuffed into different kinds of vegetables like lady's fingers, brinjal, bitter gourd, even into yau-char-kwai, and then fried. The stuffed yau-char-kwai was quite different, and very cripsy! An interesting fried vegetable done here is the "sa kot" or "sengkuang" or "yam bean". The pricing is very reasonable - 50 sen a piece.

The fried veges are accompanied by noodles from the same stall. You can either have it dry and mixed with black sauce, or with soup, or in asam laksa broth. Yum! The asam laksa is sour and tangy. The meal came to about RM18 for our family of 6. A caveat though - no air cond, not too tidy, old tables and chairs. If you're ok with that, go for it.

07 August 2009

Foh Sun Dim Sum Restaurant

We tried to go for a dim sum breakfast a few weeks back on a Sunday at "Dim Sum Street" , but the queues and the wait just proved too much for our young family. First we tried Ming Court; definitely no-go; the lines were snaking out the door. Then we tried Yuk Fook Mun; queues not spilling out the door but it still looked to be a long wait. The new Foh San wasn't opened then. We ended up at the Central coffee shop at the corner of the block, having rice dumplings, hor hee and mee jawa.

So today, a Friday, we decided that it would be a much better day to try Foh San. Hubby took the morning off so we could go. Whoa! The place was packed and we still had to hover around for a table. Don't people in Ipoh work? My mom said there looked to be a lot of retirees eating there. Sigh.....so Ipoh is a town for the old folks? Ipoh-ites, you gotta do something to make this town more vibrant and bring the young blood back here! Wait a minute, there was that change of government, chosen by the people, which could have made a difference to Ipoh, but then something nasty happened...........???

We ordered 2 porridges - fish and pork balls. Smooth and broken, just like how Cantonese porridge should be, and the pork balls were huge. My girl liked the porridge. We had 3 variants of the traditional "siu mai" - alright, but nothing outstanding. Chee cheong fun was passable but didn't quite impress.

There was an interesting "pau" that was all spirals on the outside with a hole cut out at the top and crowned with a mushroom. Inside it was steamed glutinous rice - nice innovation and quite delicious. The "sang chau lo mai fan" however was a pale, bland presentation that disappointed. To finish off, we ordered the fried prawn foo-chuk with mayo sauce. Overall, the food wan't bad but with all the hoo-ha, not that fantastic either.

06 August 2009

My facial cleanser

Continuing with my skin care experimentation, I have now tried out 2 brands of facial cleanser which I buy direct from the US. We girls all know about the debate between foam cleansers versus milk cleansers. I used to prefer foam cleansers as my skin is combination-oily, and washing with milk cleansers just didn't feel clean enough. Ah! Those were the youthful girly days. Now, I have moved towards less stripping, harsh cleansers that leave my skin squeaky clean. I prefer to use gentler cleansers that leave my skin feeling still moist.

Desert Essence Organics has the Age Reversal Pomegranate Cleansing Gel (no, I am NOT old) which I have found to cleanse well, is gentle on the skin and does not strip the skin dry. Its ingredients include pomegranate, green tea and cucumber. The gel glides onto the skin easily and is a pleasure to use. I did not have any negative reaction to it, and will definitely use it again. And I plan to pair it with the Age Reversal Pomegranate Face Serum - hopefully starting early will have positive effects on my skin later!

When my tube of Desert Essence Organics cleanser ran out, I decided to try a milk cleanser instead. I am currently using Avalon Organics' CoQ10 Facial Cleansing Milk. This soap-free formula contains the signature CoQ10 enzyme, white tea, sunflower oil, lavender and chamomile. It has a distinct lavender and tea smell, and the milk is rich, cleanses well yet gently. It has been good for my skin and I am happy with it. I guess I will alternate between these 2 cleansers - unless I find another that I like.

04 August 2009

Uplands @ Bandar Baru Tambun

Gated community living continues to pick up steam in Malaysia. KL has numerous such developments as developers respond to house-owners' demand and preference. There is much debate abroad as well as in Malaysia about the pros and cons of such developments, even the legality of prohibiting non-residents from entering such an enclave unless invited by a resident.

KL folk might be surprised to learn that gated or guarded communities are also sprouting here in Ipoh, at a price much lower than in KL/ PJ. We like to visit show houses at new housing areas, so over the weekend we went to Uplands at Bandar Baru Tambun, developed by Total Investment Sdn Bhd (TI).

Uplands is situated within Bandar Baru Tambun or BBT for short, a highly successful development by TI comprising terraced houses. Word about town is that people generally like houses by TI because they do not compromise on quality, the workmanship is good and the design of the houses is innovative, modern and practical. TI also puts a great deal of effort into its showhouses - every new launch would have a fully completed and furnished house alongside a standard unit (unfurnished) for prospective buyers to view. This is a good service as buyers can have some idea how to do up their house. And more often than not, the showhouse is quickly bought - lock-stock-and-barrel - as it saves the new owner the headache of renovating and furnishing. Just move right in with your belongings!

Uplands is a guarded development comprising semi-detached houses. The first phase Type A did very well at its launch earlier this year, and now TI will be launching Type B. Type A has 4 bedrooms upstairs, a guestroom and maid's room downstairs, plenty of room for the whole family. There is also a little set-in area which could be done up as a courtyard or an indoor garden. The whole house feels very spacious as the layout was well considered, with no wasted corners. Type A sells from RM588,000/- for a 45'x85' standard lot.
More on other gated communities in Ipoh, to come.

Honey Cempedak

There is a little place about 37 km north of Ipoh, past Kuala Kangsar, called Liman Kati New Village. Small village, small population. But there is a cempedak grower there whose trees produce "honey cempedak". Apparently the grower has quite a large clientele. Happened to pass by the new village so we bought a fruit back to try.

Its flesh is a deep yellow colour; texture is smooth and soft but not mushy; and its taste - honey sweet, like its name; seeds are small and rounded. Depends whether you like cempedak (or its relation, the nangka or jackfruit) as I know some people who are turned off by its smell. Same phenomenon with durians, I suppose.

We ate it as is and had it fried, as well. By the way, we could eat the seeds too - tastes like a nut. Just bite right through the seed. (I don't know whether you can eat the seeds of all cempedak varieties)

02 August 2009

Citrus Wine & Dine

We decided on Citrus for lunch this Sunday. My son had seen the restaurant on one of our drive-abouts and been hankering to try it for some time. Both my kids prefer western food to rice.

We arrived about 12.45, which is my preferred time. I don't like to go at the same time as other diners. We were the first customers - at that time, that is. The waiting staff were very attentive and prompt with their service. The kids were all smiles upon entering the restaurant, indicating that the surroundings were to their liking - air-cond, clean, comfortable, nicely decorated. Rather particular, my kids!
The proprietor had given some thought to the menu, as there was one for adults, one for little boys and one for little girls. The kids' menu consisted of identical items, just the presentation was different. Sweet. We ordered 2 sets - one with cajun chicken, the other the spaghetty aglio olio - spaghetty bolognese, potato wedges and nuggets with mash for the kids.

The aglio olio was delicious, tasty and fragrant. My cajun chicken, however, could have done with more seasoning, as the taste didn't quite emerge. Kids liked their meals, which came with a Vitagen each - better than offering colas, so that was another thoughtful point by the proprietor. The side of potato wedges was quite large and nicely done. Coffee was a strong brew and the milk was served warm, while the bread and butter pudding that came with our sets was just right in sweetness and softness.

Citrus obviously pays attention to details such as the warm milk, changing the cutlery according to your order, providing boy or girl plates/ cups. The waiter also noticed immediately when my daughter dropped her fork and came to replace it pronto. We will be going back to Citrus.

Making Money and Raising Children

In today's materialistic world, where savings are eaten away every year by inflation, everybody feels the need to work hard and to earn lots of money. There is professional satisfaction, personal satisfaction and monetary gain in slaving away at work 14 hours a day, maybe 6 days a week.

But once one is married, and the kids have arrived, what happens? There are too many combinations and permutations to go into - housewife and working husband, househusband and working wife, part time work, work from home, babysitter etc...

Today, I'm just musing about the practice where parents leave their children with a minder, at the minder's home, from Monday to Friday, picking them up on Saturday to "play" with them over the weekend. I have cousins who do this too. They tell me they work late and are just too tired to take care of the kids, and that they want a good night's sleep on the weekdays. Don't you miss them? Not really, was the answer. Aren't you worried about what they do or what the minder does, over at the minder's house? Oh, we trust the minder.

I wonder whether the children feel a sense of "home" if they are shuttling between 2 houses, and spending more of their time in the minder's home than their parents' house. I wonder where the bonding happens. I wonder if the children will just view their parents as weekend Santa Clauses who take them out to the malls, buy them presents, let them eat out in fancy restaurants. I wonder whose values the children will take after - the minders or the parents?

People talk about the breakdown of the traditional family unit. No more living together as an extended family. No more influence and guidance from grandparents. No more strong and close ties with uncles, aunts, and cousins. No more playing over at the neighbour's house. Perhaps this new arrangement of weeklong minders takes it even a step further - paid upbringing. Have you read the book a Brave New World? It's about a world where children are no longer conceived through intercourse. Children are manufactured through some sort of advanced IVF in laboratories and raised en masse by minders in special facilities. There is no need for parents, no need for love. Society functions by strict rules, and of course, genetic makeup decides everything.

Everybody has their own reasons for choosing their particular lifestyle, and I am not judging their choice as I do not live in their circumstances. I write this because a friend of mine said it must have been a big decision for me to quit law, to quit work altogether. He too knew of people who send their children to minders for most of the week. But I am glad I stopped working, and I am so grateful that I am able to. Even if I was not able to stop working, I would have (and did for a time) willingly quit law practice and taken up a job which could give me a reasonable work-life-balance.

For me, I need to see my children everyday; I need to know what they are doing, learning, playing; I need to talk to them and see them doing their childish stunts; I need to know what they are being fed; I need to hug, cuddle and kiss them. That's just me.