Monday, December 27, 2010

Travelogue Bali: Bali Rides

"In an air-conditioned four-wheel-drive Toyota Land Cruiser - the medium through which senior diplomats and top Western relief officials often encounter Africa - suspended high above the road and looking out through closed windows, your forehead and underarms comfortably dry, you may learn something about Africa. Traveling in crowded public bus, flesh pressed upon wet, sour flesh, you learn more; and in a 'bush taxi', or 'mammy wagon', where there are not even windows, you learn more still. But it is on the foot that you learn most. You are on the ground, on the same level with Africans rather than looking down at them. You are no longer protected by speed or air-conditioning or thick glass. The sweat pours from you, and you shirt sticks to your body. This is how you learn."
The Ends of The Earth: A Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy, Robert D. Kaplan


“Apa mbak pernah ke Belitong?”
Belitong... hmm, why does the name sound so familiar? Wait…
“Laskar Pelangi!”, I exclaimed giddily, as if I just answered a question in a quiz show.

She smiled. The person asking was a fifty-something Ibu Kartini, a Javanese settled in Bali, who was wearing a flowery top much like a baju kurung Kedah and kain batik. Besides her was her shy six-years-old granddaughter who barely spoke through our thirty-minute ride together. The three of us were sitting on the rear seat of a bemos; I was on my way back to the airport on the last day of my vacation, and they were off to Kuta beach for some school-holiday fun. It was quite a sight when I looked around at the other passengers: one lady was carrying pots and pans, another was holding a basket full of undergarments (brand new, thank god), and another with fresh vegetables and groceries. From what I read, you can also bring on board a clucking, alive chicken, and no one will question you.

The humble interior of a bemos.

Traveling alone means that you get all the ‘me’ time in the world. It was what I was looking for in the trip, but truth be told, it does get a bit lonely when all you can talk to is your own inner voice. Thus I savored my time on the public transport, especially on a bemos, that rickety old van the locals use to get around. The old ladies especially seemed very fascinated to converse with me when they know that I was traveling alone. I was at first shy, but all it took was one smile, and you’ll discover hospitality like no others. The conversation ranges from family (Ibu Kartini’s just returned from a family wedding at Belitong, hence the conversation), marriage, food and the idea of serumpun between Malaysia-Indonesia, to Siti Nurhaliza, Kris Dayanti, Ashraff and Bunga Cinta Lestari.

There are so many transportation options in Bali. Renting your own car is the best option if you are traveling with family or a group of friends, because after splitting the cost, it is the cheapest and most convenient option. Otherwise, to get to the popular tourist regions like Kuta, Ubud, Lovina and the Nusa Islands, you can depend on the reliable service of the tourist shuttle company, Perama. It is a few times more expensive than taking the bemos, but when you consider the inefficiency of a bemos and how many times you might have to change to get to your destination because there is no direct service, you might as well take the tourist bus.




Take for example my attempt to get to Tanah Lot from the airport. I decided to shoot straight for the famous seaside temple upon arriving in Bali, and I was determined to ride the bemos for the first time (when I first visited Bali two years ago, I only used taxi and Perama bus). The bemos has a fixed route, but you can hop on and hop off anywhere along the way – there is no such thing as a bemos stop. At the end of each loop, the bemos will stop at a bemos terminal, from where they will start the journey all over again. The bemos are also painted according to their route: as example, the Nusa Dua-Kuta-Denpasar bemos are dark blue, and Sanur-Denpasar is dark green. They do not move in a fixed schedule, and sometime the waiting time is a lot longer than the traveling time as the driver wants to have as many passengers as possible.


(Note: The moment you entered with a backpack, or ask the driver “How much…?”, your fee will shoot up. I observed that the locals paid much less than the price quoted to me. It seemed that the drives will inflate the tourist price. You definitely can bargain the price down – I suspect they were trying their luck to get some extra money from a clueless tourist, and there is no reason why a tourist has to pay more - or ask the other passengers how much they are paying, and then pay the same amount)

After changing the bemos three times (Airport- Tegal, Tegal-Ubung, Ubung-Kediri) and two-hours later, I found myself at a roundabout of a small town of Kediri. I was supposed to catch the final bemos from here to get to Tanah Lot, but after waiting for twenty minutes, I decided to start walking. My first bemos lesson: the further you are from the densely populated town, and the later it is in the evening, the less frequent your bemos will be. In this case, it was almost non-existent. What a luck that I arrived in Bali in the midst of Hari Raya Galungan, a festival during which the spirit of the dead ancestors came back to visit their family. The roads were lined with penjors, a curving bamboo and coconut leaves construction, with a small niche for offerings. The temples were busy with prayers, and the procession of beautiful Balinese ladies resplendent in their kebaya carrying offerings on their heads was an attractive sight. But unlucky for me, it also meant that most bemos drivers were on holiday.


The penjors.

I referred to the guide book. It said that I was still 25 minutes away by car to Tanah Lot. Hmm... how long will it take to walk? One hour? Two hours or more, especially with my backpack which heaviness was already digging into my shoulder? It was 3pm and I was convinced that I will make it there by sunset, no matter what!

But suddenly, it started to drizzle. The cloud had turned a threatening grey. Oh oooo.. Dear god, I know I asked for an adventure, but can at least it involved being stranded with a hunky Australian surfer on some isolated beach, under a sunny tropical weather?

I’d walked for two kilometers when a motorcycle stopped besides me. “Ojek, mbak?”, the old uncle asked. So ladies and gentlemen, let me now introduce you to another unique way of traveling in Indonesia – the ojek. When I returned to Kuala Lumpur, I asked my Indonesian colleague to explain the idea of ojek. She basically said wherever you want to go, when the bus or a taxi can’t take you there, an ojek will. It is the last bastion of vehicles that will ensure that you will arrive at your destination, via motorcycle. Motorcyclist will offer you a ride and you pay them. Simple. It is an informal system – almost every time I was walking, there will be a bike slowing down and offering a ride – but one that can also had it’s own station (you can bet a group of men relaxing under the trees are waiting for customers, but I did saw in passing a small warung with a sign ‘ojek station’).

So I asked the uncle how far off is the temple. When he said 12 km, I was all no-way-I-am-going-to-walk-that-far-under-this-weather-and-carrying-this-much-weight. After bargaining the price (I managed to get it down from Rp30,000 to Rp 10,000), I hopped on his bike, and off we went towards Tanah Lot, zipping through the village and some of the most beautiful terraced paddy fields – take that, Julia Roberts and Eat, Pray, Love! It was he who regaled me with stories of Galungan and Kuningan celebrations.



These personal experiences won’t be gained if you did not go out there and mix with the locals. The tourists riding the Perama bus, once onboard, usually kept to themselves. It seemed like the bemos had a power to connect people, even among the rare tourists who are adventurous enough to unravel the intricacy of riding the bemos. I made friends with the only tourist I encountered on a bemos - three daring Spanish girls on a mission to travel around South East Asia. We shared stories of travel experiences to kill time, and at the end, they were comfortable enough to ask my help to bargain for a bemos for their onward journey that they want to exclusively chartered (you can totally do this, chartering a bemo to a specific destination outside of its usual route, provided that the driver is willing to send you there. You will pay higher than the usual fee, but if you were traveling in a group, this is another very cheap option). They spoke to me in English, and I helped to translate into Indonesian for the driver.

But to me the validation of traveling like a local came when another lady, upon hearing my conversation with Ibu Kartini on my final bemos ride to the airport, chirped in, expressing her surprise that the bemos actually passed by the airport: “Waduh, saya yang tinggal di sini pun ngakk tahu yang bisa ke airport dengan bemos. Ambil teksi aja kalau mahu kesana. Bagaimana nih, orang luar pun lebih tahu, malu dehh…”.
Ho yeahhh…


Thursday, December 23, 2010

The One When We Race All Night Long


“Dude, do you think we are on the right track? Macam pelik je jalan ni”

The road that stretched ahead of us was pitched black. We’ve been racing in a night race for the last five hours, but our route thus far had been under the open sky criss-crossing the city, village, palm oil plantation and rice field where we can still see stars and the half-moon shining so brightly above us, assuring us that we were somewhere we should be.

We had passed the last village house ten minutes ago, and the road suddenly got darker as we walked into a jungle-like route. The trees that lined the road were so closely spaced that they hugged each other, and the long branches provided a thick canopy above us that I could no longer see the stars above. When we started, there were a couple of teams behind us, and we could hear their voices, so it was rather comforting. Suddenly, there were none. It was 4 am.

Do you realize that we were practically in the perfect setup of so many horror movies? Pure darkness. Check. Middle of the night. Check. Jungle. Check. Clueless and lost friends with only tiny torchlights to guide them. Check. Hantu Kak Limah? Eh, nasib baik tak de. We even saw a pair of eyes staring back at us (pheww, thank god those were eyes of a cat) and a ‘cow’ darted out of the bush and crossed the road really, really, really fast. I said ‘cow’ because I saw a huge brown body, but Aiman said he thought it was white, then we later realized that whatever it was it had moved quite fast for a cow… oh well, let’s say that we stopped discussing it just like that.

Gambar masa race tak de, sebab gelap dan tak de camera. So, lukis sendiri.


On top of that, I was in pain. The waist was aching as if it had carried a tonne of weight, my hips and calf were poked by needle-like pain, my knees were throbbing. But the cherry on top was the fact that we were unsure of where we were. We might be lost, and I was the one reading the map.

****

I previously refused any invite to participate in a team’s event because I am afraid I will let my teammates down. Despite the fact that I’ve been running regularly, anytime there is a race, the thought that I may crumbled and forced to quit halfway always accompanied me to the starting line. I wouldn’t want to be a burden to the team if I got too tired. When I’m tired I might get cranky too. And you won’t like Cranky Fatma, hehe.

However, considering that my teammates were to be Pa’e and Aiman – two very relax, supportive and cool people I knew, the kind of person who you want to be around you when you are testing your physical limit - I said yes.

*****

Our team was christened “Beauty and the Beasts” (for your information, I was not responsible for the naming. I was not narcissistic enough to call myself ‘Beauty’. Hohoh… eh, wait, perhaps I was one of the Beasts, then? Hmmmm). We started the race at 11 pm on Saturday. We had twelve hours to complete the race, with 39 checkpoints to cover and four maps to be navigated. The total route was about 60 km.

Yeah, a freaking 60 km (we only found this out during the briefing – huh, nampak sangat main belasah je masuk).


All we had was a map with locations of the checkpoints marked, a compass and our torchlight. All we had to do was run and collect as many checkpoints as possible within the time limit.

Map of endless sawah padi (rice field)


Aiman, the strongest one, would run alone to some checkpoints while Pa’e and I would take a shortcut and wait for him at the next checkpoint. Pa’e was our master in strategy. He was the one who had been reading the map all night long, deciding which route to take, leading us from one check point to another. A few times he will take the points himself and let Aiman and I went straight to the next checkpoint so that I can rest while waiting for him. Puas gak nak kejar. Sekaki Pa'e melangkah - berjalan sahaja ye - aku kena berlari untuk catch up, okay. Gila power. No wonder nickname dia Raksasa.

So there we were. I was wobbling along trailing my teammates after picking up the eighteenth check points among the rice field when Pa’e realized that we had been walking far too long to arrived at the next point. Oh ooh, for the first time, we had missed a junction. It was then decided that Pa’e would continue forward, while Aiman and I would retrace our footsteps and collect the checkpoints that we missed, make a loop and enter the main road again. All three of us would meet later where our two routes converged.

As we parted, I hold the map, as Aiman, as strong as he is, is a bit (just a bit... kot. Hehe) clueless when it comes to direction. Ah, that was the first time I was holding the map that night.


Which brought us to the beginning of this post, to that point of utter darkness in the
middle of the jungle. I can’t belief that the only time I was tasked to navigate andread the map, I might have brought the team to the middle of nowhere. I was extremely confident that we did not get into a wrong turn, but how did we end up here? Map salah ke? Hehe. Sooooo embarrassing lohh… if I didn't get us out of this situation, I would have been teased to the end of time on my map-reading skill. Geologist salah baca map? Darn it.

Well, I was sure though that we were heading towards the right direction even though we might not have been on the right road, so we decided then to walk on. All these while I prayed silently that we would see some sort of civilization, or lamps, or fellow racers. Semua ayat lazim, doa makan aku dah habis baca.


After a few false 'hopes' of seeing some lights and houses only to discover that those
were only street lamps and abandoned huts, we saw a junction. And a proper house. And three teams waiting around! People... I see living people!!! They were lost too! Hahaha! See, kawasan itu memang menyesatkan. It was not me.

It turned out that we were a few hundred meters off to where we were supposed to meet Pa’e. We managed to get to the main road that we wanted to, but I still did not know how we got there through that scary jungle road. Oh well, now that the Beauty, Beast 1, and Beast 2 were reunited, we raced on, stopping by at the surau for Subuh prayer, to the finish line.

At the finish line. Senyum lebar, kaki tengah kejang.

In the end, we recovered about 24 checkpoints, and ran and walked across Teluk Intan for 40 km in nine hours before we were stopped around 8 am as time was running out. It was quite disappointing not being able to continue on as I would love to find out how does it feel to run and walk for 60 km (ye lah, dah habis race, memang la cakap macam tu kan, padahal masa lari x habis2 mengomel dalam hati "Why am I doing this?!!!"). A 40 km race was enough though for me to fall asleep on the road in the middle of the kampung while waiting for the van to pick us up in the morning, hahaha. Memang koma terus, okay. By the time we completed the race, it was already more than 24-hours since we last slept, and we had just pushed ourselves to utter exhaustion. The villagers that passed by were certainly perplexed by the scene of a chubby girl sleeping soundly on the asphalt road with two guys guarding around.

It was definitely the most tiring, demanding and physical thing I’ve ever done, but it worth every single sweat and pain that accompanied it. It was astonishing to discover what you can do by pushing the limit. Fighting sleepiness, struggling against the pain, willing myself to continue on… this was so much outside of my comfort zone. But I just gritted my teeth, kept quiet (too quiet I assume. Awal-awal tu seronok giler borak dan nyanyi, tapi bila dah hujung-hujung race, diam tak cakap sepatah pun, heh) and kept the feet moving. I owed it to my teammates definitely - seriously, I could not have asked for better partners-in-crime to share this journey with. It was an honor, guys; I learnt a lot from both of you. You guys are awesomeeeeeeeee!

And we actually won third place!

(okayyyyyy, there were only three teams in our category, hahahahahaha. Whatever la kan. Korang nak kecoh, sila race 40km dulu, okay? Hoho).




Saturday, December 11, 2010

Greetings From Bali!

Hello! I am alive obviously, huhu. I got a few messages along the line 'Wooo, pergi camtu je. X cakap pun'. Sorry eh. Saje nak test, ada ke yang rindu. Ramai rupanya, sweet la :) There are only four people who know exactly when I am going - my sis, my mom, Mrs A and my carpool friend. Well, it has been an interesting trip so far. Details later, but for now enough to say that on day one, I got stranded somewhere because I could not get a transport out of the place, and on day two, I lost my pouch containing all my rupiah and dollar and credit card and bank cards and my passport! That was the most harrowing time, but they were safely returned to me a few hours later. I learn to be extra careful (sepanjang2 travel, x pernah lagi hilang apa2 ok) and I got to meet the beautiful, honest and friendly Balinese people who were so helpful during the incident. Today is day three and everything has been well so far ;p See you guys soon - I am having so much fun, but I do miss you people a lot :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Where To?

By the time you read this, I am thousands of feet in the air, on my way to the gorgeous island of Bali. But as now, my itinerary consisted of only 'Departing KL Thurs 0845, Arriving KL Tues 1745'.

Less than 4 hours before arriving, I still do not have a concrete plan. I have not booked any accomodation. I still can't decide which area to visit. All I know is that in a few hours I'll be arriving at the Denpasar Airport - I have no idea where I am going from there and how to get there.

Looks like this is not just a solo backpacking; this is 'redah jer' backpacking!

With the assessment, work and huha-ing with friends, I barely had time to plan for the trip. I am relying solely on my 'Rough Guide: Bali and Lombok' book, and the printed schedule of Perama bus - those are pretty much my only lifeline for the next six days (you can bet that I am furiously reading the guide book on the plane right now, haha). By the time I touch down, hopefully I've decided on, at least, my first destination.

This might as well be an adventure of a lifetime :)

---------

So I leave you with my current favorite Tata!-I-am-going-travelling-Don't-miss-me song (since people usually put up the song "Leaving on A Jetplane" - booooooosan. And Greg Laswell is awesome - do check out his albums). I am not roaming, but if I find free wifi or internet cafe, I'll try to update on my wellbeing once in a while.
See ya in six days!

The One I Love - Greg Laswell

I'm all packed up now early in the morning
I'll take my leave
I'll bring your words along with me
Maybe one day they will mean something

For now they buzz and crumble down
A little bit too easily
From a time that I am not quite over
What the hell is wrong with me?

I might be gone a little while
I guess we'll see
I gotta make a home outta somewhere
And you're all over this city

And it'll take a flight to figure out
Where I'm gonna finally land
And the time it takes for me get there
I'll be one to start again

And if the plane lifts off
I'll write you a letter to say goodbye
And I will make it long and maybe lie just a little
Tell you that I'm doing fine

Then I'll send it out and let things be
If not for you
For me
and for the time I've spent

Foolishly loving thee



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

From The Kitchen: Butter Shrimp with Pineapple, Calamari and Okra


I got addicted to Top Chef recently - man, if I can ever trade my work with anybody, I want Padma's job as the show's host (nama pun dah lebih kurang), and if I ever have to participate in a reality show, it will be this program (syoknya main masak-masak!) - and that make me realized it has been a while since I cooked anything fancy besides the usual comfort of chilli, porridge and more chilli. So tonight, a new dish!

Butter Shrimp with Pineapple, Calamari and Okra

This is practically three-dishes dish. Let's start with the easy one.

1) Calamari
Dip the squid into one of those ready-made frying flour, and deep fry in hot oil until golden brown. Hehe. easy maa...

2) Okra
To remove those gooey stuff from the okra, heat up the okra in a non-stick pan, without oil. It will dry up those gooey stuff. Put aside.

Heat up a little bit of oil. Toss in the chopped onion and garlic and some dried shrimp. Then, put in the okra. Seasoned with some tauchu.

3) Butter Shrimp with Pineapple
Prep the shrimp by removing the shell and season with some chilli powder and salt.

Heat up some butter (okay, lots of butter! But I leave it to you to decide what's appropriate :p). Toss in some garlic, curry leaves, onion and cubed pineapple. Let it simmer for a while for all the juices and seasoning to mix, then add in the shrimp.

Note: If I were to cook this again, I would add up some acid - lime juice - and more hotness - cili padi - to the shrimp dish. That will make the whole dish even more awesome!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review: Heroes of Olympus - The Lost Hero

"It isn't time yet, little hero. Some day, you'll have your quest. You'll find your destiny, and your hard journey will finally make sense. But first you may face many sorrows. I regret that, but heroes can't be shaped any other way" - Tia Callida / Hera.




Percy Jackson is back, wuhoo…!!!

Okay, sort of.

Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero is the follow up to the Percy Jackson’s series. However, our old hero and his friends are now the back-story and supporting characters for a whole new set of heroes. In this first book, Percy Jackson disappeared, and three new demi-gods – Jason, Leo, and Piper – were brought into Camp Half-Blood. They were soon claimed by their parent-god and as all other preceding books that came before this, they set out for a dangerous quest.

You won’t get anything different that what Rick Riordan had ever written before. This is pretty much just another Percy Jackson book – a group of heroes fulfilling a prophecy while their powerful god parents pretty much ignored them and they have to complete a quest in such a short time or if not, the whole world will collapse. Along the way they fight monsters, giants and other crazy mythical things.

Same old, same old.

However, this new series do show promise, as this time around, the historical aspect is not only from the Greek myth, but is coming from the Roman as well. Apparently, not only the Greek gods have their demi-gods children, but Roman demi-gods kids exist too. The history between the Greek and Roman demi-gods were rather ugly, and for the ultimate quest, Jason (the new series main hero) has to lead a group of heroes consisting of these two conflicting factions to save the world.

As a history buff and fervent Percy Jackson fan, I find this book still enjoyable to read, but nothing is breathtakingly amazing. At least I had fun in guessing the characters that appeared before their names were revealed. Those looking for an extraordinary twist or departure from the previous books will be disappointed. Read this if you are a hardcore Percy Jackson fan or looking for a quick, light read.

(… and the last two pages of the book – okay, I didn’t see it coming. I am so looking forward to know what will transpire next. But need to wait till September 2011 for the next book, "The Son of Neptune" to be published, isk isk)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Terry Fox Run 2010: Here Come The Foxes!

"I am not a dreamer, and I am not saying that this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer. But I believe in miracles. I have to" - Terry Fox




Let me demonstrate to you the graceful way of falling down while roller skating in the midst of a few thousands people. It does not matter HOW you fall – it is how the fall ends. As example, you can fall like this:

... on your butt while navigating your way down the stairs (and who comes up with a brilliant idea to get the skaters to use a route with stairs? Aiyoooo, I have yet to learn how to jump while skating, okay. Macam x-treme sport la pulak kan. And it does not matter if only one particular skater - who shall remained nameless - falls down at the stairs and the other skaters got over it easily. No, it was not that one skater’s fault, humpphh)

Or you can fall face down, on your tummy, while trying to go uphill…




Posing shy-shy (malu-malu) setelah menyedari aksi kejatuhan telah dirakam. Teknik ini sama seperti teknik 'mengelak dari paparazi'. Kedua-dua tangan diangkat menutup muka. Berguna juga saya keluar dating dengan abang Nuar kerana kami sentiasa diserbu oleh media. Ilmu itu dapat dipraktikkan disini.





The most important thing is, after you fall, smile and laugh it off! That is how a graceful fall should end with… with a laughter, as if falling down is the most fun thing that could happen, people.

The End.

(And thank you to those who helped me, eh, who help that skater who shall remained nameless, to get back up again, hehe)

____________________________


Last Sunday was the 30th Terry Fox Run, and a few KOMA members joined in under the Petronas team. Terry Fox Run is an annual charity event to raise fund for cancer. Here is a background of the event (taken from Wikipedia):


Terrance Stanley "Terry" Fox CC OD, (July 28, 1958 – June 28, 1981) was a Canadian humanitarian, athlete, and cancer research activist. In 1980, with one leg having been amputated, he embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 mi), and ultimately cost him his life, his efforts resulted in a lasting, worldwide legacy. The annual Terry Fox Run, first held in 1981, has grown to involve millions of participants in over 60 countries and is now the world's largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research; over C$500 million has been raised in his name.


Some decided to run and walk, but a few of us decided to skate. We arrived just nicely before the event about to start, so there was really no time to practice. Hoh, it was quite nerve wrecking at first, since I haven’t skate for a while, and while testing the skate at the parking lot of Tasik Titiwangsa, we found that it was really hard to move because the asphalt surface was so rough. Wobble, wobble. I looked dejectedly at Huda and said, “How are we supposed to finish 2 km on this skate when we can barely move an inch?”. Awal-awal dah rasa nak give up – malu okay konon terer sangat nak skate tapi nanti terkial-kial lak. And the other skaters were so macho and experienced-looking. Psiko, beb!

Well, thank god, that the actual route, which was the main road that circled the lake, was smoother, and I breathed easily knowing that I won’t embarrassed myself in front of the crowd.



The ‘wheelers’ were released first, i.e the skaters, cyclists and strollers, and afterwards the runners and walkers. After a while, the first wave of runners caught up with us. It was so much fun that we decided to go for a second round, for a total of 4.4 km of skating. This was definitely one of the enjoyable event I’ve been to, since there was no pressure, it was for fun and charity, and everyone was just relaxing with their friends and families.

Looking forward for next year’s Terry Fox Run!

For more info, do visit the official Terry Fox Foundation website.



Picture credit to Assan, Harun & CK. Thank you also to Mr. Robin for sending the pictures to me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Review: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy


Stieg Larsson, the author, died of heart attack a few months before the first book of the trilogy was published, and as such, he did not get to see how wildly popular these books have become. Pity on us, for I would gladly read more of his work. His Millennium Trilogy is one of the finest, absorbing thrillers I’ve ever read.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” kicks off the series as the main male character, a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, was hired by an aging, wealthy industrialist to investigate the murder of his niece, a cold-case that occurred 40 years ago. During the investigation, Blomkvist encountered Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant hacker and complex character with a dark past of her own, who helped him to unravel the mystery surrounding the murder. The book is rather slow at first, yet remained intriguing enough that I could not put the book down.

The great thing is that the series got better as you moved to the next two books, in which Salander became the central figure of a top-secret, explosive cover up. I read the second book (“The Girl Who Played with Fire”) and just went “Whoa…”, and then I read the third book and went all “Whoooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa”. Crazy awesome! The last 200-pages of the third book, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is such a page turner that I would have been jumping up and down had I not been reading those last chapters in a moving car. It was such a restless read, because I can’t wait to figure out what will happen next.

And Lisbeth Salander is freaking awesome! Despite of her depressing, sullen way, it is refreshing to root after such an atypical heroine. This is no damsel in distress – she totally kicked ass (and many other body parts as well).

One of my minor complaints is the somewhat choppy sentences – my wild guess is that since the story was written originally in Swedish, and as many other translated work, it is unfortunate that we sometimes lost the smoothness of the words. The unfamiliar Swedish names and geographical location intermittently threw me off, especially in book three when a slew of new characters were introduced in such a short time. I did have to flip a few pages back to remind myself who is who.

Forget all that, and stay put for the twist and turn of the story and the pulse-racing, dark and twisted narrative. I thought I could have figure things out halfway of each book, ala Dan Brown’s novel (the nicest person in Brown’s novel is usually the bad guy, eh) but no – Larsson mercilessly threw more and more twist to the plot when you least expect it. I also dig the strong female characters portrayed throughout the series, and the somewhat feminist/civil right tone the books carried.

All in all, an enjoyable read.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Is Forever Enough?


I want to teach you the wonders of the world
The seven colors of the rainbow
Sing you the ABC and
Count from one to three.

I want to sing you a lullaby
And kiss your nightmare goodbye
I want you to learn about love and hate
And be there for your first heartbreak.

How long do you want to be loved, my dear…
Is forever enough?
Is forever enough?

I wrote that when I first received the news of my sisters’ pregnancy. The little ones were not borne yet – but I constantly thought of them. Now that they are here, I miss them.. all the time. Hohoho… At work, I have their pictures close to me. I even went back to Melaka for a quick break last weekend (I was not even home for a full 24-hours – tak pernah dibuat den) because I can’t bear another day of not seeing them. Rindu sangat. Somehow sejuk hati bila tengok muka diaorang. Jiwa yang kacau pun boleh tenang.

Little F is a sturdy boy. We called him GemGem, hoho, because he is soooo chubby. Geram! He has a serious face – when we sent a picture of him to our dad because he has yet to see this grandson of his, his comment was “Muka garang”. Haha… I guess as the first male of his generation in our clan, his fierce face will be useful to protect his little girl cousins.






While Little F hardly posed for pictures, Little H is a natural. She knows how to look into the camera. Even when sleeping, her poses would’ve make Tyra Banks cry with pride. It is a delight photographing her. Memang little diva in the making :)



Her mom really wants a picture of Little H and her Standard Chartered Singapore Full Marathon medal. Weeeee... nanti kita main lari-lari ye.




Friday, October 22, 2010

My Kind Of Perfect 2.0


Hello boy. Welcome home!

You were detained at the hospital for a few days, and everyday you parents visited you, when all they wanted to do was bringing you home. Your mom was very sad to see the doctor poking you around to take blood sample that she cried when she arrived home. That is how much she loves you.

I wished I could spend more days with you. I only have your pictures to remind me just how much I love you. Nothing warms me more that holding you in my arms and singing lullabies and Quranic verses to calm you down. Your chubby cheek, your wide eyes… sigh, you remind me of how much I want a son of my own.

So, here are my words of wisdom, in no particular order, of ten things that will be beneficial to you, as they have been to me:

1. Your mom and dad are two very amazing person.

2. When you are in a position to not be a nice person, that’s when you discover the true you. Yes boy, how you handle trials and difficulties in life – whether with rationality and compassion, or by letting rage consumed you – defined you. As such, never let emotion clouds your judgment, and always be the better and bigger person in moment of crisis.



3. Girls are made of sugar and spice, and everything that is nice. But be careful, there are some manipulative, scheming, conniving ones too. Beware of these foxy ladies, if not you’ll be heartbroken. Other than that, treat a woman like you treat your sister and mother – with respect and dignity.

4. “I am sorry” is the hardest thing to say to someone, but when said with honesty, it is the sweetest thing we can ever say to someone.

5. Be proud of your achievement – you work hard for it, don’t you? - but be humble when being acknowledge of it in the public. Ikut resmi padi, makin tunduk makin berisi is indeed very true.

6. There is this weird sporty thing where two group of men chased after a round, rubber thing on a grass field, and men all over the world seemed so obsessed of it for a reason I can’t really comprehend… oh well, I’ll let your dad explain when you are older (p/s: you have been pre-ordained as a Chelsea fan, I think)

7. Don’t smoke. Don’t do drugs.


8. God works in a mysterious way. Just believe that He is the only one who truly has your best interest in life, regardless of what inconveniences or downfall you may have to go through. At times you might feel so down and forgotten – remember that God may not give us what we want, but He always gives us what we actually need.

9. There will come a time when you have to decide between watching a live football match or accompanying your loved one to the mall. Choose wisely.

10. “Hello boy, this is your uncle… (eh, sayang. Dia panggil kita apa? Pak Ngah ye? Ohh, ok ok). Hi boy, this is your Pak Ngah Nuar. Satu je Pak Ngah nak pesan ni. You’ll grow into a handsome and intelligent man. Girls will fall for you – most of the time, without you realizing it. Along the way, you’ll break so many hearts. Like me ahh, satu Malaya kecewa when I proposed to your Mak Ngah. But my point is, be a gentleman. A girl’s heart is very fragile. I could not really tell you how to handle it, but again, as much as you can, please be a gentleman.”


(hehehe)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Kind Of Perfect 1.0


Hello, little girl. Welcome home :)

I fall for you at first sight, as I watched you from the other side of the nursery's window. The baby boy next to you was crying his lung out (maybe he's trying to get your attention already?), but you were sleeping so serenely. When the nurse finally brought you out, I had you in my arms and I wished I never have to let go at all.



As your old, wise, very vogue aunt, I would like to impart some words of wisdom, in no particular order of importance, things for you to remember as you grow up:

1. Your mom and dad are two very amazing person.

2. No one should look down on you, or tell you “You can’t do that” or dismiss your opinion just because you are a girl.

3. Boys are nice and fun, but sometimes they make you cry. (And if anyone ever hurt you, let me know and I will wallop their sorry asses for you)




4. Read and travel. A lot.

5. In reference to point number 3, someday you'll find a great boy who will wipe all those tears away. Don’t be afraid to fall in love, don’t be afraid to fall out of it. If you ever need a confirmation that in love, good things come for those who could endure the test of life and that God knows better what is good for you, ask me to tell you the best love story I have ever known, and I’ll tell you the story how your mother met your father.

6. Anuar Zain is a really good singer.




7. Family comes first, then your girlfriends (in most instances, they are even more important than your boyfriend). These girls will be your pillar of strength and the ones you can call in the middle of the night without a second thought. Make sure you surround yourself with a few that you can really trust. Never, never, never backstab a fellow girlfriend, because you won't want them to do the same to you too.

8. A woman could never have too many handbag or shoes. And Isetan is a magical place.

9. Treat others – young or old people, rich or poor – nicely and equally. Never based your relationship with others according to their wealth, status or how they look like.

10. When everyone else seems to desert you, remember that Allah never did. He always listens, so pray a lot – give Him thanks when you are happy and cry your heart out to Him when you are sad.




Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Amour = Montreal

"Words... they'll try to shake you. Don't let them break you. Or stop your world from turning. When words keep you from feeling good, use them as firewood and let them burn" - Words by Train



Going through my Canada trip pictures, I realized I only took three pictures of myself: one was in the science museum (and it looks like it can be in any science museum in the world) and the other two made it looked like I was visiting Beijing, China instead.



Hahaha. Oh well, what important is the memory I bring back, right? (and what a memory Canada turns out to be. Montreal, you will always have a special place in my heart... cewahhh)

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I did not get to do any research on Montreal before I got there, except to learn that the taxi from the airport to the hotel will cost me 38 Canadian Dollars. Before traveling, I will usually do extensive study on what to do in the area and how to get around.

Well, I was just too busy this time around to google things up.


But just like life, when you do not put up any expectation at all, that’s when you will enjoy it the most, right?



Montreal is such a charming city with a mix of personalities. It has an European air about it. French is the main language. All signboards and menu, among others, are in French, and people are most likely to greet you “Bonjour” instead of “Hi”. I indulged in greeting people in French, because it sounds so cool, hahaha, but of course when they started to continue the chat in French, that’s when I’ll have to sheepishly explain that my vocabulary does not extend beyond hi and thank you. They’ll just smile and switch back to English, but I noticed that throughout my many travel people warms up easily to you if you make effort to speak in local language.

The Canadians are superfriendly too. Once, we were standing at a corner of the street just figuring out where to go next – we’ve been walking randomly with no fix destination – and a guy greeted us and ask if we need any direction. We didn’t answer directly because we don’t have any particular direction in mind, but the guy thought we didn’t answer because we don’t understand English, so he asked again in French… lagi aaa blur kitaorang. Because he was so nice, I asked him the way back to our hotel, eventhough we totally know where it was.

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I totally love the European feeling of the French quarters, particularly the buildings and cobble-stoned street. My favorite thing to do here is to stroll among the narrow alleyways and visited the little shops and boutiques. Too bad the shops closed so early (6 pm, okay?!) and the conference schedule was really full that I don’t have enough time to fully explore the area.


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The other parts of the city do remind me that I am actually in North America, and I was immediately transported to cities like Minneapolis and the quieter street of New York. It does remind me of my four years at the States, and coupled with the crisp and cold almost-Fall weather, well, it was really easy to get a little bit nostalgic of my college years.


And of course – Chinatown! It’s everywhere in the world, right? It was so weird that one turn off the street and suddenly I was bombarded with signage in Chinese promoting dim sum, acupuncture and Chinese herb and Chinese music being played on the speaker. Sue and I went here almost daily to get our fix of bubble tea since Chinatown is just next to our hotel.


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Rue Ste Catherine is the famous shopping area where numerous shops and shopping complexes lined the road. Too bad that it was a bit far from where we were staying, so I did not get to shop much at all. My eyes were spinning like crazy looking at all the clothes and shoes. Rugi, rugi… (kedai-kedai tu la yang rugi. They lost one potential shopaholic!)

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But my favorite thing about Montreal is how bicycle friendly the city is. They have special lanes for bicycle, lots of parking space for bicycles and this…


This rent-a-bike facility was set up everywhere around the city. You can rent a bike from one point and return it to any other point. The rate is 5 Canadian Dollar for a day, if I am not mistaken. The lovely thing is, people actually use the bikes. I’ve seen people biking them everywhere. Kan best kalau KL macam ni.