Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mint leaves

First, I open the tap - fountain of water gushing out with little effort. Water so fresh that it smells a bit like the 50 meter Chiling (water)falls; when you stand just right beneath it. Malaysian are lucky not only because they have natural resources, but because natural resources have not become a curse to us like some countries, say, in Africa. Indeed, with a bit of engineering it is the water from sources like Chiling waterfalls that runs through our taps. Much to say about the more important green-war is in fact far from the backyard of city dwellers; the urban green lungs that won a small city like Kuala Lumpur admiration from its residents and tourists alike.

Ok, water first; then comes the mint leaves. I think this is where the hyper-market complements the good-old traditional wet-market. Mints leaves and parsley is not something commonly found in the wet-markets; nor I enjoy driving to a huge and cold hyper-markets that for just few mint leaves. Perhaps we should consider having a hyper-market at the size of mini-market, like those in Antwerp's Franklin Rooseveltplaats. Countries like Malaysia is a growing baby and we takes in a lot of stuff, outside stuff, but pretty much still figuring how it's best practiced in the context of our society.

Alright, if you not getting impatient by now, I am. Actually I want to wash those mint leaves I bought from hyper-market yesterday and wash-and-clean them so that I can have a good glass of mojito tonight. The cleaning process is important here - because only then I understand immediately why my great-and-wonderful mother can spend the whole morning, washing and cleaning stuff before she even start cooking them. I don't want those dead-brownish mint leaves to be visual as the mojito washing down my throat, nor I want to spend time picking the green fresh one everytime I want a glass. To my surprises, I stand there patiently for a good half hour, cleaning, separating, change the water, cleaning again.

It was an hour later, when those wet fresh mint leaves dried on a piece of yesterday-Sin-Chew newspaper. By the way, the Chinese press reports different stuff, compare to Malay press or Tamil press and vice-versa to every other press and media in the nation. The 1Malaysia concept, like many other concept say New Economic Policy of Malaysia is indeed benign and important - but the fact that those concepts is needed says something about our deep-rooted divide. Neither can we predict the end of those, concepts. But my professor said we should nonetheless do our part with convictions; something which I hold dear ever since.

I promise to be short on the lime - since it is mojito that we are talking about!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's well over one-and-a-half year. Certainly, there is plenty to cover. But I am not in a hurry, for I am not going anywhere. I'll be here. I'll just be in Malaysia, and I hope it remains so for the next one year or so.

Start, where? Maybe about sis getting another child. Some friends got married and I am not even in their wedding dinner (too many of them!). Maybe about Aceh. That wonderful project of paper-making art using banana stem. Or, the fact that I nearly meet up with Pink-Panther weeks ago! Almost. I almost wrote something here for many times anyway. New hiking place in KL; paintball game and best summer in Warsaw; fellow Asian classmate back in Asia-Europe Insitute of University Malaya; Interlaken; Munich; Intan center at east coast; I don't know.

I just want to start somewhere. It's boring to talk about what I have just mentioned, so maybe I will write something else. The point is I am here. I got a job and I am back HERE as well. But I have been pretty much jobless since April 2008. I got another life then, not this kinda life. Yes, everyone would like to have a rather different life than what they are currently living. The bottom life is still: healthy body, mind and soul. You'll lived your life eventually.

Like I always do, I start with picking some photos. Photos are part of my memories. I don't usually forget people, but the time and occasion sometimes confuses me. If you live your life without a virtual clock i.e. routine, you lost count with time. It's not the side effect or something bad: It just meant this is totally new. Different life. It's like you lost your eyes sight over night - moving away from comfort zone removes some of your abilities.

But hey, I am not good at those philosophical things. I find it hard to churn up those thick books, as they are not as interesting to read (although the idea was great in the ends). I'm gonna stick to some photos - and I shall continue later.

Now I can go to sleep a happier man :)

Beginning of Summer 2010, Warsaw

The famous tsunami boat, Aceh

Tabur hill - magnificent!

Aung brought us to Burmese restaurant, Bukit Bintang. Circa 2009.

In front of Chef's home, Interlaken

My niece, growing up - full with challenges

Monday, March 09, 2009

Breathing in

Few months ago, right after my Madrid trip I actually started to write something. I even choose the title: The Drinkers. I even have an explanation for it; “Velázquez’s “The Drinkers” because there was this old man painting it, when we share the space of Room 12 in Prado Museum. He was probably thinking; which stroke Velázquez would apply next?”

And of course, I live among people proud of its beer, although we seldom talk about famous drinkers, like the Absinthe addicted impressionist. Ridiculous me – this is what Europe is all about – beer, wine, cheese, museum, ideologies, revolutions…

So, I try to breathe, and breathing in.

It is rather embarrassing; suddenly I thought a blog without update in six consecutive months is as good as a dead or abandon one. It could be six days, or six weeks? Anyway, I just want to do something before tomorrow.

No doubt, I found new platform, like facebook, to communicate with my friends. I learn how to say "oh there is too much in my head now I need coffee". Or "it’s sunny, let’s go out, stop everything and don’t ask me". Ask yourself. I realized that I am happy not to use the title “The drinkers”, and I wouldn’t want to quit blogging anyway. Moody added my in his facebook Nice-Person list, but I know he is definitely better than nice. Thank you, my friend.

I found new ways to express myself; at the same time trying to get better shots by over-stretching my old faithful. I have an American (United State of..) punch line for it: “We are doing this together, bro.” Then I found scanner to be a wonderful media to make...something out of it. Long after the invention of oil paintings centuries ago, who would imagine? But really, for me, it might make the whole process of getting rid of some stuff easier; stuff like train tickets, metro maps, receipts, museum floor plan, scribbled notes…that I collected throughout my travel.

So, let’s get started ;)

Scaning through: Vienna, Praha, Bratislava, Budapest

Two weeks for Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – in the end you won’t remember much but got yourself whole bunch of train and metro tickets, maps, or 700 koruna fine for processing an over-due 24 hours ticket. Lucky me: I might be in the jail should I have no ticket at all.

Then I remember switching currency like a mad man. Mad because I wanted to keep some notes for sis, who collects foreign currency; but not something worth 50 EUR, nor I want to keep anything more than that is for sis. Then my mind are stuffed with EURO, RM, Kc, Ft…and different conversion rate. I wondered if, like some of my friends said, European life slows me down.

Czech-Slovakia separated in 1993, during the first years of my high school. Then, they start using different currency, but probably not for long: Under the grand vision of European Union, it is more than standardized system of law, foreign policy, freedom of movement, services, goods, whatever.

European learn from each other and settle for better cooperation at even greater speed and depth; not possible without centuries of wars and fight for territory, power, WWI and WWII included? Over time, the Alsace-Lorraine bitterness between German & French actually opens up new possibilities.

They said the new millennium belongs to Asia, especially with the China and India phenomenon. I will think about this again when I exchange EURO for RM, or Yen, or RMB.

Scanning through: Madrid, Toledo

November 2008: Antwerp plunge into winter and everybody is looking for an escape. Before the questions of sustainability, how it relates to climate change and tourism; it was and it is still about lifestyle. Out of all possibility in Europe, there is one impossible: gets in their way enjoying life.

Leaving the strong cold winter wind behind, I embrace the sunny days. I’ve never seen sky that blue, that you hardly need a polarizer. Not that my old faithful can use one – it’s just the right moment to do something together again. (Later – I mean now - I discover the same blue sky in Antwerp, towards the end of winter.)

Like all my travels in Europe so far, I am lucky not to travel just for the sake of tourism. This time, as a participant of Asia-Europe Young Leaders conference, I manage to meet some very unlikely person; someone like Dr. Goh Ban Lee, an academician for 20 years and member of the first (Malaysian) National Economic Consultative Council.

He said the economic plan was brilliant but the implementation, as we witness many years later today, is a disaster. No wonder in 2002, he wrote a new book entitled “Non-Compliance: A Neglected agenda in urban governance”.

For the mayor of Madrid, the future is competition among cities, not countries. They talked enthusiastically about joining Lisbon, Madrid and Milan in one straight bullet-train line. We visited the latest river reinvention project downtown Madrid, given a tour at Toledo, witnessing the coexistence of Muslim, Jews and Christian culture.

We eat fantastic, have jazz and Flamenco concert, watch Real Madrid lost 3-4 to Real Irun. We did talk about sustainable cities, made a declaration – then I pray for the best of both the mayor and citizens of Madrid – potential host of next Olympic.

When I am done in Prado Museum, I am ready for Caixa Forum; the old man will probably be painting baroque masters for the next 20 years. Hopefully, we both found our own strokes in life.

Scanning through: Dublin, Belfast

I feel blessed to be in Ireland: After months of Dutch classes and walking on the street thinking should I start with Dag, ahoj, or Gutentag? There is a Little Penang on the Dublin street, the architecture landscape change from century old and narrow to colorful and wide. The highway from Dublin to Glencree is not without potholes, and the driver seat is on the right.

Near Belfast, Northern Ireland, we have Chinese take-away prepared by Malaysian. No, the taste is not what I expected; didn’t expect police to stop our bus for ID check, either. The fact is so-called peace talk between Unionist and Nationalist, or Irish and British government for that matter, is still far from concluding. Nobody was killed in Malaysia’s current political havoc, but I just couldn’t convince myself we fair better than them.

Then I remember I work for a peace voluntary movement who can only watch their northern Irish/British counterpart’s deteriorating health, pretty much helplessly. Here you feel strong Irish or British, but not European. But at least in Ireland EURO is common currency - when I shop in Irish Designers or dine in Mao café, I was thinking if the magic of European Union will works here, in the islands.

Scanning through: Paris

Just when I am ready to accept that fact that I will not visit Paris before my flight in April, something opens up for me. Although it still requires great deal of efforts, but I am glad that it all went well in the end. I wanted to thank those who make things easier and harder for me – like the right balance that Paris have had, when I am there.

There I was; first night - getting used to the city and new friends; second night - drinking few shots of Polish vodka with red rose syrup plus few drips of Tabasco (unfortunately it was too much for me) with an old friend; final night - touring Notre Dame with Oneka and Maria. We are freezing, thousands of miles from home, and had a wonderful evening together – what you get when you mix Asian, African and Latin together.

In between the Louvre, Eiffel, Sacre Coeur and UNESCO building were these meetings – again we have reflection on International Voluntary Service (IVS), discuss about differences between theory and practice, profit and non-profit, us and them. It is also about relating our work to current global and capitalist world which are changing way too fast.

Instead of some Korean nuns, it is the Malaysian politician who should sit in front of “The Raft of Medusa”. You really need the right people at the right time, right place. Otherwise it's all futile.

I would love to go back, in details, of those trips; or write more about Antwerp, anything. But breathing out is not as easy as I thought; or if it really matters, this post justifies it. But I want to do a better job back in Malaysia, for sure.

Velázquez’s can be translated into “The Drunks”, because when we drink, chances are we will get drunk. I can’t remember how many times, when asked, I always replied: “No.”

So tonight I can drink to the health of my blogpage: No, not yet!!!

Scanning through: Souvenirs from Paris, covered with metro map with camera pressed on bottom-left

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Summer Train

Back to Antwerp again. Three month from blogosphere is like two weeks on the road or one whole year away from home. I left for Vienna toward the end of August, knowing it means farewell to Zomer van Antwerpen: 58 days of music, theater, circus, film, zomerbar…every single day, with of without the blessing of the sun. The whole city – in fact, the whole Flanders region falls into summer mode.

For the first time I felt guilty to stay home. Say tired to Gentsefeesten. Not to party till dawn. Not to celebrate the warmest season of northern hemisphere.

But you never know what is going to happen next summer, or next day (weather in Antwerp); I just couldn’t resist jumping into the summer train. I traveled north up from Vienna to Prague then south bound to Bratislava. My return flight is from Vienna; that means I have to travel further south from Bratislava to Budapest and then north up again.

In the end I missed the legendary one-hour-or-so Vienna – Bratislava train, but nonetheless I had a marvelous round-trip journey. Needless to mention: the European IC (Inter-city) trains are punctual, smooth and the landscapes are wonderful in these regions.

Vienna – Prague train journey. Highly recommended: Kate Nash +
Bauchklang through your ear plugs…
Wouldn’t want to embarrass myself giving historical narration or analyze architecture style of cathedrals as such; nor how Filippo Brunelleschi change the perspective of paintings forever, akin to that little big push Constantine I gave to Christianity, extending empire and perhaps, helping the humanity at large. There’s a hole in my history knowledge: Big part of it being European history and tradition.

Pity thing is one can hardly recall, and definitely no way to record every moment of the journey. You either missed the right moment for your shots or letting an inspiration slipped out of your mind. It’s a matter of that few seconds: You choice is either camera with 0.00001 sec start-up time or get ready to write on your arms, metro tickets and obviously maps.

Post-journey (at least for me) writing depends a lot on the seemingly insignificant notes when you are still trying to figure the street name. Or like myself, I also built it on photo memory – in the memory stick, that is.

It sounds stupid enough to hold the camera all the time; so sometime I just stroll, observing, trying to capture & feel the moment: such moment that might reappear months or years afterwards – with God’s wiling it will be in another post. Or it just becomes part of memory, nothing more and nothing less.

Ichthys - Jesus Christ The Son of God The Saviour
The starting point of my journey is Brussels - I remember the excitment of weeks-long holiday, expecting good weather and feeling rusty with my my old 3.2 MegaPixel faithful. Things (or my photos!) changed dramatically later with a 10.2 MegaPixel plus 10x Optical Zoom but that's another story.

Okay, Brussels feels more like a city compare to Antwerp – pardon me, from where I am and travelled before, you’ve gotta have enough high-rise to call yourself a city. If it’s odd the have century old landmark next to full-glazed high-rise, it’s even better to paint a fish skeleton in between them.

One of the two ‘fishy’ paintings that I notice during my 48 hours stay in Brussels, as well as first discovery of two ‘high-level’ (well, almost 10-storey I'd say) art painting throughout my summer journey.

Next one comes in Vienna – here lies the forces of attraction of Hitler to The Art of Painting

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Belgium Weekends...part of ;p

Approximately 2 months later - I gradually found my own rhythm of everyday life. But this is no Discovery Channel; learning process can be both exciting and frustrating. Frustrating, when you want to write something but found no words for it…

So, I'll have my bollekes and we shall start with usually cheerful weekends. Especially May’s weekend – I remember sunny days, good friends, unforgettable journey and great moments…

First stop: Somewhere near Waterloo.

Voluntary organization usually held their activities away from city – somewhere so quiet and peaceful that you don’t border to remember the name of that place. Like somewhere near Waterloo. I usually pay attention to the road sign…and thanks to Napoleon; ‘Waterloo’ is very catchy. Moreover, it does not sounds French at all.

Most new comers will realize soon enough that Belgium is first divided by two languages, into two region; Northern Flemish-speaking region and Southern-French speaking Walloon region. Of course it’s common to find someone who speaks Flemish and at the same time French, but usually not the other way round.

I was traveling with my French and Nigerian colleague to a seminar – Working In Conflict Area – an unofficial visit from the International Secretariat members. I like traveling with Stan – with his beloved guitar around him, he is always in joyful mood and I don’t have to stuff my ears with digital wave. So when Stan is firing his flamingo, I took a picture of him at somewhere he said “Feels like French.”

For me this feels like ‘the moment’ - Welcome to Braine-l'Alleud!

From where I am, Flemish Region is one of the most English-friendly regions in Europe. Even so, in Antwerp, I feel shy to speak in English: my second – or more like fourth or fifth language. So no questions about it: One should have less expectation when you’re in Wallonia Region.

But like how I navigate the town of Namur, Antwerp Stadhuis/City Hall produce a perfect map – tourist friendly convenience or for some critics, effectively reduce human contact to the minimum.

The other picture from Wallonia Region that I have that worth sharing it here:

Castle high above the hill, overlooking the waterways and the old town of Namur – distinctive features of many other European cities. Today, that once the most strategic defense post is perfect for a pre-summer walk, have beers and enjoy the view on top of the hill.

Back to Flemish Region, I enjoy cycling to a small town called Boom.

Some 10 miles away from Antwerp city centre, Boom once a town with blooming brick industry. But for those who traveled here on the second weekend of May 2008, Boom is synonymous to Mano Mundo festival.

After the unforgiving cold and wet months, what people craved for is nothing but nature, sunny skies, beers and entertainments. And Mano Mundo is designed to provide just that.

For a minute I thought it was only a giant two-day music festival: Tents, stages, camps big and small were built surrounding the green landscape to host music of various genes. But I soon realized that this is a one-stop entertainment festival: There's Chinese calligraphy, Indonesian massage, capoeira, strong Moroccan mint tea, magic show, flea markets…

All these, complimented with two days of beautiful sunshine. Couldn’t escape the festival, I got pretty tanned afterwards.

Leaving Boom, we cycle pass some empty streets, seemingly deserted town. Not like its much different compare to Antwerp city after, say 1800 hrs. But somehow I feel eerie, so I peddle past it right after my final shot of this church. You guessed: a robust brick structure.

Now let’s move up north, where Belgium gets part of the precious North Sea coastline. Looking at the map you can almost sense the outcome after series of historical events, when both Dutch and British were dominant seafaring powers.

For a while I thought that big chucks of land beyond Knokke are Belgian soils – but surprisingly the Netherland owns much of the Western Scheldt, flowing out to the North Sea. Ironically, together with Ostend, Knokke makes me feels more like home – back to the real city, high rise and modern landscape.

That faithful much longer can they sustain our needs?

In Knokke’s World Press Photo Exhibition, both Prasant, my new Nepali colleague cum professional photographer, and myself can only stare the 2007 World Press Photo of the year in disbelieve.

No, not me. Yes, that one - the "Tired soldier in some bunker" in the US-lead war in Afghanistan.

Obviously the photographer does more than that picture, and all credits to him and his hard, risky effort. What really surprises us is the amount of war and famine related photos displayed in the exhibition. All these prized photographs come with stronger emotional attachment than ever, making them extremely provoking and powerful. Or depressed?

Anyway we certainly found ourselves happier at the Ostend seaside, although you can’t really swim in any of those. If the unpredictable weather around this region is why holiday makers prefer the coastline along Mediterranean Sea, this could well be the second. A huge and long coastline as well – must have been hard to defend during the war period - remnant of cannon bunkers - I wondered if anyone would notice it.

Granted, there must be some well preserved seaside, or one can swim in a pool overlooking the sea view. Summer is well on its way - the season when European spends more than they should – so you’d better have some resorts waiting.

But we are not really holiday makers – we walk, talked, enjoy the sun shine and barbeque back in the apartments, 15 minutes walk to the seaside. That’s what this trip is all about.

Back in Nepal, Prasant-ji is still looking for his elusive best picture. Oh I know that feeling, and it we both know it will keep coming. As long as we have enough O2.

This razor-sharp picture below (in fact, all the last three photos) separates my point-and-shoot camera with his DSLRs.

Mean while, our friendship can only grew stronger...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Antwerp, Antwerpen

Tens of frying pans when all you need is just a good wok - one week into european life I found myself in the exact moment - 'the moment' that I've experienced it for many times in my mind - but going through it out here is a different story altogether.

I keep stirring it keeps spilled all over but hell, I still have my fried rice in the end. Rice, cooking oil, garlic, ketchup, salt, white pepper, eggs, porks - all comes gradually, so does the taste of my dish.

Forgive me but as much as I enjoyed it, I had too much bread-butter-jam-cheese-ham-tuna kinda combination. Not for all the meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner - anyway. So until I get my hands on some really nice home-cooked Belgian cuisine, I will continue to stumbles in the kitchen.

Regardless, beautiful Antwerp city has been treating me well so far, even so from my wonderful colleagues at SCI International Secretariat.

Here, at least for me, the often regards as over-used term within the movement would falls back into line: Decision making policy, coordination structures, volunteer drains, unrealistic plans, consistency, over-dependency, euro-centered...and a long list of practical procedures.

However, as one could have figured out, it is the yard stick of transperency, democracy, accountability and liberty as defined by different individuals, the most difficult to manage. Sometime it gets them some-where but everybody, no-where.

Cultural difference? Over-rated!

But alas, this is by nature, human. Suprisingly I enjoyed it - big part of it is because I am not working alone here, that getting a bigger picture of things free your minds.

The office St Jacobsmarkt 82 is within 10 minutes walk from central station, a chinese grocery shop, cinema, Mier pedestrianised shopping street and if you can keep up with the pace of ever changing Antwerp weather - a basket ball court.

Halfway to the station - Katten straat P7 where I stay now, post office, key-maker, kebab + fritters aka junk food. Now that I have my bicycle, that 5 - 10 minutes can mean something really, really different. Next week, though, I should really get you guys the picture of spiderman crawling on the wall opposite of our office.

For now, you can see me working under a huge attic windows - this made me stop complaining about climbing up the stairs.

Volunteers maybe but a job is still a job - a day would start and 8 hours here seems shorter than those in Malaysia. Probably because of the cold weather - but it's spring!

That means even at 8pm, the sun would cast a long shadow over my body at the basketball court - so long it almost reach the Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady, a stone throw away.

So, I am still tasting Antwerp and probably Europe at large - no promise but at least, what I see is what you get as long as I have time to write :)

Warmest regards to my blogging you-know-who buddies!

One week later...

As promised...

Of course Spidy is always there, one week or one year, be it rainy or sunny saturday like today. Now I think no one will ever miss the entrance door to our office...

Have a nice weekend everyone!!!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

We Are the BOSS

You already know the result of Malaysia's 12th general election - in brief - first simple majority in 50 years. But the rhetoric process does not end here. In fact, there are even more debates in mass media, so much so that we hardly know it really means. This is merely the first wave of "tsunami".

Say, if a well-known social-political writer would "mis-read the mood of the country...(12th general election) an epochal contest", what can normal rakyat can preceive, as one only chat about it over cup a of teh tarik?

So let's seized the moment in the words of some witty Malaysian columist and Yang Berhormat - while I can finish my teh tarik!

*** *** ***

"Without their two-thirds majority, the Bariasn MPs lose their free hand to amend the will be protected for at least four years..."

"Let there be no confusion between what teh Opposition chooses not to do and what they are simply unable to do (Opposition presence in Parliament is not enough for them to form the executive)"

"...(new faces in Parliament that belong to intelligent, capable people) an injection of intellectual content in legislative deliberations, rather than the usual slinging matches that our parliament is so shamefully infamous for (no more bocor commnets!)."

"...some practical aspirations that brought along more intangible type of showed that our vote counts; we the people hold the power."

"Democracy is an ongoing process, and if we value it we must continue to take part in that process."

"...for one in a long time, there is hope taht a non-ethnocentric form of politics and a truer democracy is appearing in our country." - Dr Azmi Sharom, law teacher, columnist

"...Umno is less used to rejection and its supporters are having trouble adjusting to not being completely in charge." - Joceline Tan, columnist

"We have an image problem and we have not been able to get rid of the perception of nepotism, corruption and cronyism. The perception is so strong that we find it hard to answer when people criticise us. It would be foolhardy not to make drastic changes. For example, it would be suicidal to bring back Samy Vellu." - Datuk Shahrir Samad, re-elected Johor Baru MP

"...before this, they (the Opposition) staged such demonstrations against the government. Now as the new government, they should know what it feels like," - Datuk Azhar Ibrahim, Penang State Umno liaision committee secretary

"...any act of revenge will not only cause looses to Penang but also to the whole of Malaysia." - Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, re-emphasizing his points while lauded Prime Minister's decision to carry on with all major Federal Government projects in Penang

"If there is self appraisal, I think gone would be the days of taking things for granted, the highhandedness and rhetoric. I would also look forward to more decorous conduct and less of what I call cockerel behaviour."

"(On constitutional amendment) I don't see any obstacle if the amendment was not self-serving to the Executive but was for the general good of the people..."

"This will be a challenge for Barisan MPs...Oppositino MPs were already supporting their debate points with data and sound reasoning."

"(On whether Barisan MPs would be more willing to vote for their conscience now) The practice of being beholden to the Whip is too ingrained...don't expect anything so drastic." - Datuk Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim, senior Barisan parliamentarian, ex-defunct Semangat 46

"(Election result)...shows that we're heading more towards a Malaysia that is suitable for all Malaysians regardless of race and creed...the political debate must revolve around policy issues rather than sentiments." - Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Malayia Think Tank director

*** *** ***

Well there will be more to come - there are internal bickering within both the Ruling and Opposition - let's just wait and see.

In Malaysia, we never fail to entertain you.