Thursday, January 31, 2008

It may be the Year of the Rat but...

It may be the Year of the Rat, but all those Rat figurines with their large luminous eyes and long tails are not selling well. When asked why, those interviewed said, " Cos they'll eat up everything in the house." Superstition, it seems die hard.

Plastic surgery

NTV 7, the feel good channel had an interesting talk on plastic surgery this morning. With affluence, many Malaysians are willing to go under the surgeon's knife to have a face lift or correct a physical defect. However, there are many unqualified and unethical people out there trying to scam unsuspecting victims.

The two experts on the program pointed the finger at beauticians but there are also qualified doctors who blotch such jobs simply because they do not have the expertise. They are only fortunate because Malaysians find the subject embarrassing and would would rather suffer in silence than sue the surgeon.

Adobe e-seminar

Today, I attended, for the first time, an e-seminar on Flash Media/Video organized by Adobe. Its gives a run down on the various features of the program.

Web videos are the in thing and supposed to be very effective for internet marketing, conferencing and the like. It claims that advertising through Flash Media is a US$ 70 billion industry. There is a trial download for 15 days.

Sad, Sad, PPP Experience

I don't think anyone has a sadder experience than me with PPP and IZEA. When I first signed up, I accepted a PPP Direct offer for which I was reprimanded. They told me that since my blog was not approved, I was not eligible for direct offers. Fine, I accepted that. Then, they told me that blogs would have to be active for at least six months before they could be approved by PPP. Everything was shelved and I had almost forgotten about PPP until I received one of their newsletters.

On the spur of the moment, I applied for the approval of my blog. What joy and happiness filled my heart when the good news finally arrived that my blog was approved! But oh! how short lived the joy turned out to be!

You see, in the template where the post is uploaded, they had mistakenly inserted the name of my post as my blog. I didn't understand it at that time. I only thought they wanted me to upload my Adobe Photoshop Workshop 2007 post. I had trouble uploading the file and all the required codes, in the process of which, I lost the post due to a 404 error. I managed to recover the post after several days of tinkering and finally succeeded uploading all the requirements in correct order.

Then I waited and waited but there was no response. When I finally checked with Customer Support, the same guy who was in charge of my case from the beginning told me my post was rejected because it wasn't current. That was when I discovered that it wasn't that they had approved the post but had used the title of the post as my URL!


An outdoor garden with bamboo trees in the background acting as a shade against prying eyes.

The city of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province is famous for its beautiful women, among them the Soong sisters, wives of Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai Shek. Apart from that, Suzhou is also famous for its silk and gardens.

Much pain goes into the planning and landscaping of a Suzhou garden. There are bound to be bamboos and weeping willows. In fact, these two trees are often found in Chinese paintings.

Bamboo has a very cooling effect on the surroundings. I have a potted bamboo plant but I intend to plant them as a shade around the house.


The pomelo is a round fruit that belongs to the grapefruit family. Actually, it is native to Malaysia and is grown in abundance in Menglembu, Perak. It is also a must item on Chinese New Year because of its round shape which signifies unity.

I remember some of my foreign colleagues who didn't know what it was for. But once initiated, they fell in love with the fruit.

The fruit has a thick skin which you can remove quite easily. Cut of the top and bottom layer of the fruit, like you would, a lemon. Then cut into the skin, segment by segment and peel it off. Inside is the fruit, which is in segments, like a mandarin orange. It's nice to eat the pomelo, just as it is but today, the pomelo is an ingredient found in salads as well as the raw fish salad, which Malaysian relish on the seventh day of Chinese New Year.

By the way, the skin has a very soothing fragrance and is used as a medicine. The skin can also be boiled and then used as a bath. It apparently takes away arthritic pains.

Chinese Dumplings (Jiao (3) zi

Lately, Chinese products have come under severe attack for poor quality control. First, it was dolls, then, tooth paste and the latest -Chinese dumplings. It seems that some Japanese became ill after eating Chinese Jiao zi, that was probably prepared under unhygienic conditions.

I think China should buck up on its quality control instead of suspecting sabotage or foul play. Today's consumer demands the best in terms of safety and hygiene.

Jiao zi was never one of my favorites when I was in China although no less than three ladies had tried to teach me how to make them. I still preferred our local wonton and prawn dumplings.

However, in winter, when I was too lazy to cook, I learned to eat jiao zi which you can buy at the frozen section of any Parksons Supermarket in China. Actually there was one particular brand which was introduced to me by a local. It suited my taste. I can't remember the name of the brand, though.

Our local frozen food, however, in particular, dumplings, has much to catch up n terms of quality and taste.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chinese Pavilions

A Pavilion at the Curve CNY 08

Pavilions are common in huge parks, on mountain tops as well as on large campuses throughout China. In the old days, when traveling was done on feet or horseback, these little places serve as resting places from the heat or rain. In fact, the name for it in Mandarin - Xiu(1)xi(4)chu (4) , means exactly that.

I remember my student taking me up the hill in Xuzhou to show me the city. There, on one of the pavilions we had instant Nescafe, an expensive commodity, in those days on a teacher's pay. I had brought with me a hot water bottle for that purpose. In fact, I brought, too, a pack of digestive biscuits. It was a very memorable experience for both of us from different cultures, as we shared our lifes. Thank you for the experience, Cai Xu !

Chrysanthenum Flowers

Chrysanthenum or ju (2) hua (1) is very common in mainland China. They come in different sizes and colors- yellow, white and purple. Pots of chrysanthenums are often used to brighten up a stage or the entrance of a building.

If you walk through the Chinese countryside, you may have the chance to pluck some of these flowers off the roadside.

Chrysanthenum tea
is made from small, dried flowers that belong to the same species. They have medicinal value and is believed to be cooling to the body. This is based on the yin and yang concept of health. The two elements in harmony means a state of excellent health. Since chrysanthenum tea has cooling properties, it will help to douse off some degree of body heat.

Brewing chrysanthenum tea is like brewing other types of tea. You buy these flowers at Chinese medicine halls or the tea section of a supermarket. Place a handful of the leaves in a pot, then pour hot, boiling water into it and let it brew for at least ten minutes. Then strain through a sieve. You may wish to add rock sugar or honey to the tea. Some people throw in a slice of old ginger. It tastes even better when chilled.

It has been said that as indoor plants, these flowers are good air purifiers.

Zhang Zi Yi

Zhang Zi yi of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha fame announced recently that she was eligible to apply for Hong Kong PR. She has an European boy friend, who happens to be Kate Moss' old flame. He is much older than her but she doesn't seem to mind the age difference. Perhaps, her boyfriend can help her to speak English more spontaneously. Why not? Lots of Caucasians marry Chinese girls for the same reason - to learn to speak Mandarin.
Zhang Ziyi at | Ziyi Zhang Pictures, Videos, and more

What's become of our world?

I was horrified to read about the racket that lured poor Indian workers with promises of good jobs only to drug them and steal their kidneys. The poor victims! How will they feed their families now that they cannot do hard labor? And this is happening in our century!

Other horror accounts taking place right before us include sex slavery of women from Third World countries, child rape and murder. The Star reported of a close shave for two young sisters who were nearly abducted when a man in a van tried to seduce them with candy.

Foreign Workers

Lately, there has been a lot of adverse publicity on foreign workers. But Marina Mahathir is right when she pointed out that they are not the main crime offenders and they are not stealing jobs from locals. In fact, they are working in places where our own people refuse to work.

Yes, repatriate them by all means, if illegal workers are caught. Unfortunately, there is a syndicate that arrests illegal workers and then demand for ransoms from the workers' employers for their release. The government should investigate this matter.

Mud Cakes

We Malaysians ought to be so thankful for political and economic peace and progress. Think of the poor people in Haiti. They eat mud cakes made of mud, of course, salt and vegetable shortening. It's their only means of survival for young and old. Surely the consumption of soil will take its toil on their digestive systems! Red Crescent, Rotary, philanthropists out there!! Please reach out to these people!!!

It's a cold , Spring Festival

Unexpected, heavy snow in different parts of the world is an indication of the global crisis that we are heading to, unless we take heed to show more care for our environment. The key is "recycle." Recycle our plastic bags, plant more trees or shrubs, switch to energy saving bulbs.... these would be some things we can do to chip in our share to preserve our environment. If each one does something, it will make some significance.

In China, many are stranded, unable to go home for the Reunion Dinner and Lunar New Year because most railway tracks and roads are covered deep in ice. The TV news shows showed the army working to break up the ice so that the trains can operate again. Let's hope they can reach home safely and on time to usher in the Year of the Rat!

The Reunion Dinner

The Reunion Dinner takes place on the eve of the Lunar New Year. Family members who work away from home would not miss this meal because of its deep significance. It is a time to express filial piety to ancestors as well as to elders. The successful children, now adults express their respect and love for their parents with tokens of gifts either as red packets which contain money or festive food items such as shark's fin, bird's nest or ginseng. Parents do no demand for anything except their presence.

At this meal, each dish on the table has a symbolic meaning. Everything "round" symbolizes unity. Thus meat and fish balls would be part of the menu. The family gathering itself reflects a united gathering. Fish and chicken symbolizes prosperity. Black moss represents longevity. The nian gao or sweet cake as well as the mandarin oranges has the shape of "nuggets", which implies prosperity.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chinese New Year Exodus

The Chinese New Year Exodus has already started in mainland China based on TV news. The festival doesn't affect college students since they won't be back from the winter holidays until after the Spring Festival but for working people, the occasion is usually, at least, a seven day stretch. Tickets have to be booked way, way in advance.

Never, ever travel during the Spring Festival! Train and bus stations can be very chaotic. I made the mistake of going to Guilin during one such Spring Festival. I was practically carried up the carriage by the rushing crowd and almost suffocated during the journey.

At the same time, petty businessmen take advantage of the holiday to jack up the prices. At one restaurant, we paid through our head for a meal that wasn't one tenth its worth. But we were forced to patronize the place in order to be eligible to buy our boat tickets. Clearly, it was a syndicate in operation, aimed at ripping off tourists, foreigners and locals without exception.

These days, with affluence, the Chinese prefer to go abroad for their holidays during this season rather than battle a human sea.

Chinese Knotting

Chinese knotting is an ancient folk art that survived communism and serves as a source of employment for rural folk in mainland China. Although the basic form of knotting remains the same, certain regions of China boast of their distinct patterns. Chinese knots are used as hanging decors but they also serve functional purposes such as buttons and loops for spectacle cases or cell phones. These days, intricate Chinese knots are used as substitutes for chains to hold jade pendents.

A good souvenir from China would be a Chinese knot. The interweaving of the silk threads is also symbolic of unity which perhaps is a reason why these knots are popular during Chinese New Year.

Is Recession Here Already?

I've visited some of the main shopping malls and in my opinion, the Chinese New Year decor seems pale compared to previous years. Even the Chinese New Year ambiance is down several degrees. It makes me wonder whether recession has started setting in.

Recession would mean a slow down in business which in turn leads to more unemployment and a higher crime rate. Each time there is a recession, there is a higher rate of burglary and snatch thievery.

Let's hope I'm wrong and we continue to have a robust economy. Let's pray the government remember the poor and needy, both rural and urban and monitor price control. Most people think of the rural people when talking about poverty but I think the urban poor suffer as much and in certain situations, more severely. They still have to pay the rental, the food the transport unlike the rural folks who can always resort to growing their foodstuff.

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning seems to be part of most cultures before they usher in an important festival. Whether it’s Hari Raya, Deepavali, Christmas or Chinese New Year, the house is often spruced up for the occasion.

What better time to welcome in the new year than with a new set of sofa to replace the old, pathetic one? Since almost everything is supposed to be new on Chinese New Year, why not take a step further to revamp the wardrobe and start with a new you? Some people even plan the moving in to a new house to coincide with the new year. Of course stores play on this kind of psychology by dangling all kinds of promotions to attract sales during such festive seasons.

There is an old Chinese saying chu jiu bu xin which loosely translated means "wipe out the old and spread the new." Malaysian Chinese will say “get rid of the bad luck to usher in the good luck.”

For those in business, it is a time to take advantage of the coming new year by collecting business debts since it is customary to settle debts before the old year ends. So better race on before the Rat Year arrives. You’ll have a higher chance of success in debt collection!

The Year of the Rat (2008)

Chinese New Year falls on different days each year, usually between January and February. This is because its calculation is based on the lunar and solar movements. This year, Chinese New Year falls on the 7th February, which is a Thursday. Since Malaysians enjoy two days of official holidays, it’s going to be a four day bonanza.

Also known as the Lunar New Year, its origin dates back to 2600 BC and is the oldest chronological calendar. It was launched by Emperor Huang Ti, the first emperor to unite the whole of China. If you visit Xian and the Bing Ma Yong, you will see the grave of this great but dreaded emperor.

A complete cycle of the Lunar New Year takes 60 years of five cycles of 12 years each. Each year is based on one of the twelve animals and this year is the Year of the Rat. This means that if you are born in the Year of the Rat and happen to meet someone also born in this animal year, you can roughly gauge his/her age, using the number twelve as the basis of your calculation.

Previous Rat Years include : 1924 1936 1948 1960 1972 1984 1996

Sunday, January 27, 2008

KLCC Fountain

I wonder how many locals take time off to enjoy the beauty KLCC has to offer apart from the skybridge. When the fountains are at work on the lake, they form a beautiful scenery with the hotel apartments as a backdrop.

You almost think that you're abroad. How about making these musical fountains? The place is a nice retreat in the middle of concrete high rises. It seems to be a place where foreign workers congregate on Sundays. They deserve the break.

KLCC Demonstration

Saturday 26th 2008
I forgot that there would be a demonstration at the KLCC over the impending price hike, that is expected after the elections. I was there just before four in the afternoon, in time to see the trailings of the demonstration.

According to a police personnel, whom I asked, the protest was led by NGO’s (Non Govermental Organizations) as well as opposition party members. Most of the entrances of the KLCC were barricaded with steel and the place looked almost deserted.

Outside curious on lookers watched the police and other uniformed personnel on duty. I managed to take some snippets of the event. The crowd picked up later with a lion dance performance. However, I didn’t wait to watch the performance.

Chinese Calligraphy for Chinese New Year

Another aspect of Chinese New Year celebration is festive wishes expressed in Chinese calligraphy – the art of Chinese writing using the Chinese brush and ink. A good hairbrush may be made up of horse hair.

The greetings are usually written usually on red paper, sprinkled with gold dust in the background and are pasted on front door posts. The red banners are supposed to frighten off evil spirits and to usher in good luck. Some Chinese businessmen would pay thousands of dollars for a well worded calligraphy by an equally well known calligrapher.

It is also the practice to present a framed calligraphy with words of best wishes to a business associate who has just opened a business.

Frequent characters for Chinese New Year include
Fu ( Luck)
Chun (Spring)
Shou (Longevity)

Tangerine Shrubs, Pussy Willows and Chinese New Year

These are favorites during the Chinese New Year and right now you can find them in the malls as well as the wet markets.
The tangerine shrub (kum kwat) with its green leaves, studded orange tangerines is symbolic of wealth. There is a play of sound here. In Cantonese, the word kum sounds like gold . And of course, everything green is related to life and prosperity.

The pussy willow with tall erect branches and furry catkins are usually placed in a deep, large vase and decorated with red packets or other Chinese New Year decor. Should leaves appear during the Chinese New Year, that would a sign of prosperity.

Trust God for your fortune

There are two anchor tenants in the Pavilion and they are Parksons and Tang’s. I think Tang’s is part of the Singapore CK Tang group. When I entered the Tang’s, a pretty lady in red qipao presented me with a mandarin orange and a fortune cookie. Somehow, fortune cookies are not part of the Malaysian Chinese scene but it’s very much part of the culture of American Chinese, made even more famous, by the novel, Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and other novels with American Chinese settings.

Quite amused by the fortune cookie, I opened it up and lo and behold, the biscuit was in the shape of ancient Chinese money. Trust the Chinese. Everything during Chinese New Year has to have some association with wealth, and wealth and more wealth! As I crunched into the biscuit, out came the strip of “fortune.” It says “Your desires will come true.” Halleluyah ! Who wouldn’t like to hear that? I added “Amen” to it.

String Quartet for the Spring Festival Celebration

Yesterday, I went to the Pavilion, my second visit to the newest shopping mall in the city. It’s all fluffed up for the Chinese New Year. The auspicious red color was on its grand stage, right at its entrance. The stage area is also known as the Pavilion Circle.

Gigantic peony decorations hang from its high ceilings. But the best treat was the performance by a string quartet of three ladies and a guy. The guy played the mandolin. The flute, guzheng, pipa and mandolin in the hands of these expert musicians produced the most haunting, nostalgic, melodious music that transported those familiar with such music to an era of the days of kings and princes, enjoying such music on their palace grounds or on a rocking boat.

I remember my Chinese girl friends in Beijing. Some of them signed up for art or guzheng classes, partly I suspect, because they knew of foreigners’ fascination with these subjects. Then I remember, too, my student, Cai Xu, who gave me a cassette on traditional music.

I tried to confirm if the quartet was imported from China, but I couldn’t get through those in charge at the Pavilion. I believe, they are. They are five star performers! Their renditions of Chinese New Year favorites as well as movie hits evoked such warm memories of my sojourn in China. Thanks! I wish you all, a wonderful year of success in your music career as well as in your health!!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Little Taiwan

If you happen to drop by the Pavilion, the latest shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, and need to fill up, let me recommend the Food Court. I think it is called the Food Republic. Located on Level 1, it has almost every kind of local fare. But I was drawn more towards the other Asian foodstalls. I blogged about the Korean pancake, which I had the first time I visited the Pavilion.

This time around, I opted for Little Taiwan. My obsession with Hokkien soap opera from Taiwan, particularly, the current one, entitled, the “The World’s Best Flavor, ” ( my loose interpretation) has a part to do with my choice. The series is about four families, all in the restaurant business and their interweaving relationships. You learn a lot about food, in general and the Japanese influence upon their culinary preparation and taste.

At any rate, I ordered the braised beef and rice and was not disappointed, considering the price – a little over RM10, with tax thrown in. The beef came in ample portions and the ‘po cai’ or salad was quite delectable – crunchy, sweet, sour, savory – some of the requirements of what a good dish should be by Taiwanese standard. Presentation wise, it loses out to Japanese or Korean food but it makes up for the authentic, village flavor.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Origin of Lunar New Year

In the old, old days, Chinese villagers were oppressed by a monster called nian that would gobble up human beings for meals.
Finally, a wise, old man confronted the monster, challenging it to eat animals instead of humans. The old man succeeded and rode off in triumph on the back of the nian but not before leaving advice to the villagers to celebrate the victory with red hangings. The red packet, the money gift that is given on Chinese New Year is part of the celebration. Check my other blog, for the Biblical connection to this account.

SMS Text Messages

Making a thousand friends a year is not a miracle. The MIRACLE is to have you like a friend who stands by me for a THOUSAND reasons.

A woman has strengths that amaze men. She can handle trouble and carry heavy burdens. She holds happiness, love and opinions. She smiles when she feels like screaming. She sings when she feels like crying, cries when she’s happy and laughs when she’s afraid. Her love is unconditional! There’s only one thing wrong with her, she sometimes forgets what she’s worth.

You may have received similar text messages on your cell phone. You know they are not original but they still have the power to touch the heart, coming from the right person.

Is this new technology taking over from the traditional way of expressing appreciation and best wishes? It looks like the new technology is here to stay. With the coming Chinese New Year, I wonder how many text messages will go out. The China Daily reported as astonishing 60,000 million text messages last Chinese New Year. What kind of messages would the Year of the Rat convey? I'm sure we're all keen to find out.

Bogus universities

Recently, the BBC uncovered a bogus university. It has already been in existence for six years and is still operating despite being "caught in the act." I've seen frequent advertisements of the university in local papers. It is based in the UK and has no lack of students from Third World countries. Sad to say, the scam university is run by a Malaysian.

Bogus universities are not uncommon, less detectable in cases of online and distance learning programs. A friend of mine who worked her butt out on her master's program was shocked to find out that her university is not recognized by the government.
My advice for those seeking higher education is to check out the background of the university before making a financial commitment.

The Public Service Department (Scholarship Section) has a list of foreign universities recognized by the government. MACEE has a similar list, I believe, of American institutions.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ban the Use of Plastic Bags!!!

Plastic bags are made from petroleum and take like forever to break down. For this reason, they are bad for the environment because discarded plastic bags are used to to fill landfills.

It seems some giant foodstore chains in the US have begun to ban the use of plastic bags. Now I wonder how long it would take our big supermarkets -Tesco, Carefour, Giant, Parksons to take the cue.

Sunlight may be good, afterall...

We often hear that exposure to the sun causes skin cancer. We are advised to use UV (ultra violet) protection make up or sun tan lotion whenever we go out. Part of the rationale is that the puncture in the ozone layer has removed protection from the sun's direct rays. All the scare about sun and cancer has caused some people to totally shy away from the sun which is not necessary good according to certain scientific sources. Apparently, a bit of sun goes a long way to provide Vitamin D which helps in bone formation.

Though it has proven that the sun and skin cancer has a direct connection, we need to learn to not to go overboard with each scientic claim.

It's been quite a while!!!

The new year began with a severe throat and chest nfection. Instead of seeing a doctor, I decided to just have lots of rest and liquid. It took a longer time to bounce back, a sure indication that age is catching up.

At the same time, my computer came down with Exploit -a virus, according to AVG, my free anti virus program. I didn't have a clue of how to remove it and my laptop was crawling slow as a caterpillar. It still is and that sucks because it takes like forever to upload anything

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Life Coach - what's that?

We’ve all heard of a sports coach, speech coach, animal coach but a life coach? That’s something new to many people. Today's Breakfast Show on NTV 7, Aishah Sinclair interviewed a life coach.

Basically a life coach helps the clients to formulate goals and objectives and motivates them in the right direction to achieve those goals.

If you are thinking of starting a career as a life coach, you need to have some basic qualities. You need to like people, to like helping them and you need to be a good listener.

A course in life coaching will teaching you how to ask leading questions and how to give the right counselling.

In today's affluent society, there are people willing to pay for the services of a life coach.

Friday, January 4, 2008

What Next? (Post SPM Blues)

Sook Fun is temping as a kindergarten clerk while waiting for her S.P.M. results. What is primarily on her mind right now is "what's the next step?" She has two options : Whether to follow a pre-university course OR a diploma course.

Naturally, her parents are anxious too. They want their darling girl to make the right choice. Where would they go for counseling?

Today, it's easier to seek career guidance than it was in the sixties. In the sixties, career counselors were a rare breed. These days, however, there are just too many.

I advised the girl's mother to let the daughter choose a course that is of interest to her. Of course, other factors to take into account would be the cost, the marketability of the degree and whether the degree is recognized internationally, in case Sook Fun wishes to go abroad.