I Have a Crush on a Diamond

Yes, the HTC Diamond took my breath away.  My brother uses a HTC Touch, I always thought it was a nifty gadget, and I’ve played countless times of Bejeweled on that little thing.

I never really liked PDA’s.  They are powerful gadgets, but they’re not really small.  Plus, they looked kind of ridiculous when used as a phone, as though someone is holding a stack of drink coasters to their ear.  And those stylus thingamajig – not good for careless people like me.

Then came along the iPhone.  I wouldn’t buy one because they still lack certain functions that would have otherwise made it perfect – but I have to admit that they pioneered the whole touch-screen technology.  They are slim too, hence turning touchscreen gadgets into sophisticated, sexy little beasts.

But the HTC Diamond.  It’s small, slim, sexy, and full of substance.  Oh, it’s steep too.  I don’t think I’ll get anywhere near to this phone except at the displays.  Or if someone elses buy it.  For me.  Hehehehe.

Yes mom, finally, I have to agree, diamonds are a girl’s best friend!*

(*as defined by this article. Terms and conditions apply.)

Kooky for Cheese?

August Rush

augustrush.jpg

I have a soft spot for movies with music as a theme. And when a friend introduced August Rush to me, I knew I had to watch it. The movie starts off with a beautiful cellist Lyla (Keri Russell) with a control freak as a father, and an awfully cute rock star with an Irish accent Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who fell in love at the rooftop of a party and had a one night affair. Obviously the girl was then forced to part ways with him because of her father. Pregnant yet at the peak of her music career, Lyla got involved in an accident, and her father took the opportunity by giving her son up for adoption, but made her believe that he died due to the impact.

Fast forward to the present, 11 year-old Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore) ,realizes he has an amazing gift in comprehending every sound he hears and every thing he sees into music. He believes that his gift connects him and his real parents and that someday, they will be able to find him through his music. He’s like a modern day Oliver Twist, he escaped the orphanage and joined a group of kids with musical talents who earn their keepings by basking in the streets. Playing the role of Fagin would be Maxwell ‘Wizard’ Wallace (Robin Williams) who then discovers Evan’s amazing skills on his Gibson and tries to exploit his gifts to earn more paper.

So how did Evan Taylor become August Rush? And how did he manage to become the youngest first year student in Julliard, one of the world’s most prestigious music schools? And did his parents find him in the end? Well, I’m not telling because I want you to watch it for yourselves. The director did a good job in captivating the magic of music in this movie, not to mention Freddie Highmore’s cute smile too. At the end of it, I was so inspired I literally took my guitar and strum a few chords. And suddenly, I missed my piano too.

Even if you’re not a music enthusiast, this is still a must-watch. Think Oliver Twist with a Gibson. If that doesn’t intrigue you enough, I don’t know what will.

About A House

When you were a kid, did you have a favourite spot?

I did. And it’s this little green old-fashioned house. My maternal grandparents’ place. This is the place where everyone would meet up, the women will gossip, the men will play mahjong/cards, while the kids, like me, would run about everywhere, and have fun, fun and more fun. My mother has 7 sisters, and 2 brothers. Which means, I have lots of cousins. I grew up with them, and they were like brothers and sisters to me. And in this house, we laughed, cried, and screamed our lungs out with joy, and not fear. Unfortunately, as we grew up, we have our own lives, and parted ways. Things are not what they used to be anymore. Nevertheless, this is one place that holds most of our dear memories.

This house, will soon be demolished. Developers are taking over the land, to build…something else. So I snapped some photographs of this place, so that I can put them up here, and write about it.

Let me give you a tour into the house.

1: At the veranda of the house, sits this swing. This is the place where my cousins and I would fight over for the swing, and play our own pretend games – at that time I was quite a fan of Power Rangers, and would climb onto the swing, and pretend it was our aircraft or something. However, sometimes, the adults beat us to it. The women especially, occupied this spot to gossip about who’s doing what and when or why.

2: I don’t know what you call this. For most typical chinese houses, it’s there so that when visitors come in, they have to go over this beam, and that causes a slight bowing action, which shows respect to the ancestral altar. I didn’t know the main purpose of it until much later on, two years ago or something — back then, I used to SIT and STEP on it a lot! Haha!

3: So as you step into the house, you’re greeted by the altar. During those big praying occasions there will be loads of food lined up on that circular marble table and another extra table too! Being a big family, huge portions were cooked. At the end of the prayer session, we’d all have a feast, and aunties would pack some home too. Usually after these ceremonies my grandma will take the leftovers and whip up another delicious dish, Kiam Chye Boey! (Salted Vege plus Other stuff Soup) Yum!! Oh yeah, my granny’s of Nyonya descent — hence the jolly good dishes!

4: Also, if you look up to your left and right, you’ll be able to see portraits and pictures hung. They’re in order actually — they are wedding portraits of the Soo family. From the 1st aunt to the youngest uncle. And some other family portraits as well. I used to observe them and compare them with my aunts and uncles now, and wondered where they got their beer bellies and wrinkles from!

5: That’s a portrait of my late grandpa. I’ve never met this man. He died the year that I was born. Cancer. Although we’ve never met, my mom told me I have a lot of similar traits to this old man. We have the same taste buds, and characteristics. My mom also said that if he was still alive, we’d get along very well. A man in his own league, my ‘ah kong’ is well-respected among the villagers, a talented musician, a fun father in-law, a responsible husband, a caring father, and I’m very sure, a loving grandfather to all those who have seen him.

6: Step further into the house, and this is where the men would have their gambling sessions. When the swing outside is being occupied by the kids, the women would then come here to continue their ‘sembang-sembang’.

7: This is the kitchen. The place where delicious, authentic Nyonya and Hokkien food is whipped up. My grandma is really good at making kopi ‘O too. She’d make a pot of it, and serve them to her dear son-in-laws who were busy with their mahjong/cards. During festivities like Chinese New Year or birthdays, the sisters would cook up a storm! This is the busiest place in the house, really.

8: Ah…this is our favourite cabinet. This is where the food is kept from the flies. The kids (and even the adults) would check this cabinet out from time to time and ‘steal’ the goodies inside. Haha! And the fan? Well, this is a rather new fan — we used to have the old one where you actually have to wind it up. During those hot and humid times we’ll all fight over this one fan!

9: This is the bathroom. Well, even outside of that door is considered the bathroom. Because the younger cousins would bathe together there! I used to think that was a mini swimming pool or something — but I never jumped in before. I remember I’d bathe with my younger cousin when we were still very small, where both of us could fit into one tub!

10: This looks like an ordinary, Garfield picture, doesn’t it? Well, this picture is probably older than me! It’s situated in one of my aunt’s room (she used to stay there) and has observed the whole gang of us growing up! This room was also one of our favourite ‘lepak’ spot – because my aunt would let us mess up her room in anyway we want! And sometimes, she’d join in the fun too!

11: Ok, this is ‘jamban’ or the toilet. Yes, this is where SERIOUS business is done. I used to be very reluctant to use it because it was usually dark, and slightly narrow. And yeah, it used to stink when the previous person did not “flush” well. We don’t have the pulley flushing system — it was a scoop-some-water-and-rinse sort of thing.

12: This is the backyard. Also where the toilet is located. This is the place that gets flooded when heavy rain comes. My cousins and I would then fold paper boats, and let them sail. ON sunny days we’d pluck some leaves, and play ‘masak-masak’ (imaginary cooking). Oh, sometimes, the aunties gossip here too. Talk about ‘wide-coverage’.

So yes, that’s a short tour of the green colored house. A house that was once a home for everyone.

A place where we danced.

A place where we celebrated.

And a place where we loved.

This is the place where everything happened.

I miss it already.

Hear Ye O’ Carnivores!

Doesn’t that look absolutely delicious?  Makes you feel like sinking your teeth into that thick, juicy meat, followed by its perfect companion, a glass of red wine.  Cutting a piece is not a chore at all for its meat is so tender that just by looking it at makes your mouth water.  When it enters your mouth, the sweetness of the barbeque sauce is just right – motivating you to take the next bite, and the next and the…

That was my dinner yesterday.  I kid you not.  I actually finished all four pieces of juicy pork ribs laid out in front of me.

Krista and I meet up for makan at so many interesting places that I think we should just start our own food documentary one day.  Sometimes it’s pretty hard to believe that we knew each other through the blogging world.  There was no awkwardness between us even during the first time we met (Kris, Swatow Lane, remember?) and we’ll always end up chatting about almost everything.

So yesterday, Krista brought me to RIBS Barbeque Restaurant for dinner.  She spoke about her occasional cravings for pork, and I coolly stated that I do not crave over meat.  I even exaggerated that I could practice the Muslim diet anytime.

And then came the ribs.

My first thought when I saw my plate was, “This is very…meaty.”

As I took my first bite, I just went, “Ohmigoodness… This is good!  This is actually very good!”

For those who have read my blog long enough would know that I seldom do food reviews, as a matter of fact, I’ve probably only written one or two food reviews in my whole two years of blogging.  Last night, however, I regretted for not bringing my camera along.  Luckily, Krista brought hers along and she kindly lent it to me.  I really had to write about this.

Even the side dish was good.  Nothing extraordinary, but good.  Both of us preferred sticking to the old fashioned Coleslaw + Mash Potato combo.  And truth be told, I’m not much of a potato person.  But I finished my cup of mashed potato that night.

The ambiance of that place is just very relaxing.  It’s that kind of place where it isn’t too formal, nor too noisy.  It’s a place where you can just kick back, enjoy your food and company.  Oh, and the restroom is quite interesting too.  I won’t tell you why, you’ll have to go see it for yourself.

We didn’t have the red wine though, because the night before, I already had my share of alcohol with some friends.  And that itself, was a rare occasion.  But really, next time, the meat has to go with some wine.  That would have completed the whole picture.

Of course, the wine didn’t really matter at all last night because I had excellent company.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything.  Krista, thanks for everything.  =)

RIBS Barbeque Restaurant is located along Burma Road, one of the shophouses next to the Penang Plaza.  Senior citizens (55 and above) get 20% off on orders on Mondays, while set dinners have a discount of 20% on Tuesdays & Thursdays. It opens daily 12 noon 3 pm for lunch and 5pm-10pm for dinner. It is only closed for lunch on Wednesdays.

And now, I shall eat my own words.  As long as there are people cooking up such delicious pork ribs – I won’t be converting my religion any time.

Pain Is Universal, But So Is Hope.

Last night, I watched one of the best movie ever made. I don’t know how many of you have heard or seen Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, among the very diverse set of casts. I admit, Brad Pitt did play a role in making me watch this movie, but it was also the rave reviews written on the DVD cover that prompted me to give this a go.

Released last year, Babel was considered one of the best movies ever by movie critics and has won several awards. I wondered why we didn’t screen it on our local shores — but after I watched it, there were one or two mature scenes, something our censorship board wouldn’t allow. And because of that, few million people missed out on an important message portrayed in this film.

Babel means ‘a confused noise’.  This movie consists of a very diverse group of people, speaking different languages.  Yet, circumstances brought them together.  For Christians, you can compare this to the story of the tower of Babel.

Ok, to the story.

This movie revolves around the lives of four groups of people – a Mexican babysitter with two American children under her care, a Japanese widower with his deaf-mute daughter, a Moroccan family and an American couple on a vacation in a Moroccan dessert.

Each group has their own issues to deal with. The Mexican babysitter needs to attend her son’s wedding, but her employers were not back home yet. The Japanese widower is constantly under interrogation regarding his wife’s suicide, and his daughter has been desperately trying to fit into the society (you can imagine a helpless teenager doing a depressed Britney Spears stunt – foul language is not a barrier for the deaf-mute either). The Moroccan family has two sons, one who constantly enjoys watching his own sister undress, and hits puberty a little too early. The American couple is trying to cope with the unspoken grief of the recent loss of their baby son, and their trip was probably something their shrink prescribed.

As you can tell, things have been rather shaky for all four of them. One incident, however, linked them in the most unexpected way, and things just fell apart. Warning: Spoilers below.

One of the Moroccan boys were testing out a rifle their father recently bought. The younger brother, who is a better shooter, aimed at one of the bus passing by – about 3 kilometers away. Little did they know that their mini game proved lethal as the bullet hit the wife of the grieving American couple. Since they were in the middle of the dessert, the tourist guide brought them to the nearest village to seek help. The village doctor removed the bullet (in a very painful and old-fashioned manner), and sewed up her wound, but that was only temporary to keep her alive. The Mexican babysitter brought the two kids along across the border to attend her sons wedding, but on their way back, the driver was drunk, caused problems with the border police, and left them in the middle of the dessert. The Japanese deaf-mute girl continued with her Britney Spears act – except she’s hornier and wants to sleep with every guy she meets (including her middle-aged dentist).

So how are they linked? I won’t give that away here.

But this movie has a message. And in my opinion, the director/screenwriter is trying to portray the circumstances of the September 11 events in his own way. Here’s one of the scenes where the Mexican babysitter is stuck with the two American children in the dessert:

Boy: Why are we running away if we didn’t do anything wrong?

Babysitter: It’s because someone did something stupid.

Boy: No, it’s because you’re bad!!

On the shooting incident in Morocco, the American government immediately concluded that the shooting was a terrorist act, creating chaos in the relationship of the two countries.  The other groups of tourists are desperately trying to get home, as they feel it was unsafe — hence conflict arise between them and the American couple.   Yet, at the same time, the wife of the American couple is receiving treatment and care from people she doesn’t know, people she looked down upon at first.

I won’t reveal the rest of the movie – but eventually, things begin to turn around for all four groups of people.  For some, huge sacrifices have to be made, lives lost, while for others, it was just a matter of letting time heal the pain.

The tagline of the movie says it all:  Pain is universal, but so is hope.

This movie made me realise that people choose what they want to believe.  And often we prefer to focus on the wrong doings that others have done to us, that we sometimes forget about the little good stuff that are happening around us everyday.  We jump into conclusions, sometimes cultivate prejudice to a certain group of people, and this affects the way we live.

If we could just leave judgement to the hands of God, perhaps we’ll have more room for compassion and understanding. 

For those who haven’t seen this movie, please try to grab a copy of it.  It’s worth it.

What We Don’t Have

Hello all. Yup, I’m home and it’s been great so far. Speedy internet connection, mom’s cooking and television 24-7. What else could I ask for?

Anyway, I wrote this piece a few days ago, and this is twice as long as the previous post. You can read half of it, go get some coffee and continue after that or something. That’s if you can still down that cup of coffee. I know it’s the Hari Raya season, best not to read this post with any rendang, lemang, ketupat or any food.

Here goes nothing:

*****

Take a moment and imagine this scenario:

You’re all alone in your room. Suddenly, the things in your room begin to disappear; your magazines, computer, stereo set – everything. Then, the furniture vanish as well. All that’s left is your mattress. Within a few seconds, your comfortable, bouncy mattress becomes a flat, hard one covered in PVC – those you’d see in a gymnasium. The walls of your room begin to compress until there’s only enough room for that single-sized mattress. You’re sitting on your mattress now, with the door only 3 feet away from you. Now, imagine the door turning into a stainless steel gate. And, it’s locked.

You’re in need of the toilet. Yet, you can’t go out of your room, well, more like a cell now. You can’t stand it any longer. You let it go there as you see yellow liquid flowing onto the mattress, releasing a pungent smell. Oops. You cry out for assistance but the words just won’t come out right. Instead, those passing by keep telling you to shut it, while others just run away – as though you’re crazy or something.

Suddenly, you smell something really horrible. Something worse than the smell of your urine. Oh no, you’ve really made a big mess now. Feeling disgusted, you vomit at the sight of your own disposal. Now, you’re practically swimming in a combination of the three most disgusting things that people would prefer to flush away through the toilet bowl.

You scream and scream, somehow hoping you’d get out of this nightmare.

Your parent/spouse/sibling/friend wakes you up. You breathe a huge sigh of relief as you wipe away the cold sweat.

What we call a ‘nightmare’ is actually a reality for some. The scenario is how spastic children live EVERYDAY.

I’m sorry to have led you to a scene that may have spoiled your appetite, but my recent visit to the Spastic Home has left a deep impact within me. What was supposed to be a Moral Project turned out to be an important lesson in life. And I’m here to share it with you.

All 10 of us volunteered to visit the Spastic Home as a project assignment, while the others in the class chose the Salvation Army, etc. I’ve dealt with kids from the orphanage before, but I’ve never encountered those from the spastic center.

I mean, what was I thinking? I’ve never really been good when it comes to dealing with kids, what do I expect from kids who can’t even think properly nor comprehend a word I say? I don’t know about the others, but I took up this task because I felt God wanted me to. I’m not kidding. He knows that I am ready to take on certain tasks, and there was a part of the world that He wanted me to see.

We drove up a few days earlier just to see how it would be like. When we reached the place, what struck me was that it was placed directly opposite a Christian cemetery. And next to it was a church. Is this God’s way of looking after them from birth til death?

Our lecturer told us that since this was our first time, we need not deal with those confined in a special room – those … intimidating ones. We entered the room just to have a look, and we were welcomed by a really strong odor of drool, urine, shit and vomit. The inmates were locked up in those cells as described above, with their mattresses drenched and some of them even chewing on their own diapers. They made loads of noise, loud moans and screaming – if they were ‘talking’ to one another, obviously we did not speak the same language.

Basically, our senses just went numb in a couple of minutes. As we left the place dumbstruck, we were thinking of the same thing: We had to clean that place up.

Even if it was the grossest thing we’ve ever seen, heard or smelled.

We returned on a Sunday. And there was something big going on at the church next door. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best and they had lots of singing and food. As selfish as I would say this, for a moment, they felt like a bunch of hypocrites to me. But then again, who am I to judge?

We rolled up our pants and sleeves, filled up buckets of soap and water as ammos and armed ourselves with mops and scrubs. We were ready for war. The inmates have been released outside to enjoy some fresh air while each of us tackled their cells – scrubbing the mattresses, walls and the floor away. The residue was stuck onto every surface that we can see. Using rags (and hands), we scrubbed away the brown, stinking substance off the wall.

What scared me most was that I got used to the stench after half an hour of being in that room.

I can only imagine how it feels like to be in there for a lifetime.

 

Let’s go to the brighter part of the visit. One of us brought a guitar along and we began to sing and dance with them. They could not do either, but they did occasionally clap along. They made loud sounds again, but this time, we were not intimidated by them. Somehow, we knew they were happy sounds. We could tell it from their smiles.

After that was the drawing session. We bought paper and colored pencils (toxic-free) and let them sketch as they pleased. One of them could even do simple arithmetic! She could solve simple addition problems and even though I am doing advanced Mathematics in university now, I felt so much more inferior to her. Another began to trace a picture from her coloring book. Tracing! That is a really smart act! These are smart kids! They just…they just live in a world that ordinary people like us cannot understand. A world where there’s no judgment, nor discrimination.

 

When it was time to say goodbye, both sides were reluctant to part. We have done our part for the day, but was it enough?

I remember that halfway through the cleaning process our lecturer said to us,

“You guys are doing a great job, you know that?”

I don’t know if we did, but I’m sure those kids have done a marvelous job in opening our hearts and letting us realize that we’re a bunch of lucky brats. Throughout the years of whining and complaining about the material things that we lack, we did not realize that what we do not have is actually the sense of gratitude and humility.

Of all my years in learning Moral Education, this is probably the one and only assignment that meant something.

 

And that’s how it should be.