The hibiscus, a tropic plant, grows well in southern California. I like the way the bold hues energize the garden.
The hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia.
The hibiscus, a tropic plant, grows well in southern California. I like the way the bold hues energize the garden.
The hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia.
Posted in Personality/Celebrity, tagged Malaysia, memories of Whitney Houston, remembering Whitney Houston, Singapore, Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston Asia, Whitney Houston concert, Whitney Houston fans on February 17, 2012 | 2 Comments »
I remember a year in the 1990s, when it was announced in the media that Whitney Houston would be performing in Singapore, there was an excited buzz among her many fans in Singapore and Malaysia.
A fan myself, I was happy to be able to attend the concert and to see Whitney perform.
When Whitney walked onstage, I could see that she looked as beautiful in person as she did in the videos. Like all true talent, she brought her own brand of magnetism to the room.
I remember there was an announcement that the air-conditioning in the venue would be switched off because Whitney had concerns about its effect on her voice. I suppose it could be due to the contrast between the cool air of the air-conditioning and the hot, humid air on the outside, something that could effect discomfort to the throat in tropical countries.
The fans didn’t mind. It was a fast-paced concert; Whitney thrilled the fans with her hits. She saw a group of young men and women near the stage who looked like African-Americans. Curious, she asked them: “Where are you guys from?” She didn’t quite catch the answer, and asked them again. “Cuba! Cuba!” they all shouted together.
At one point, an assistant came out with a small towel. Whitney perfunctorily wiped her face with it, then playfully threw it to the audience who jostled to catch it.
Soaring voice, incredible range, beautiful songs. Thank you for all the music.
Singapore, May 2011: I knew that I had to visit the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. This would probably be the last visit for me before the building stop operating as the railway station that I had once known very well, during a time in my life when I made many trips on the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur route.
It was late morning. The station was quite empty, the most obvious folks were there snapping photos, rather than the travelers.
I was doing the same, seeing for the first time some details that I had missed while hurrying to catch a train, or rushing to go home after disembarking from the train.
I wanted to snap a photo of myself with the ticket counter behind me. I approached a woman and her teenaged son for their help. They were happy to oblige.
The boy took a photo of me with my digital camera, but he was not happy with it. With youthful enthusiasm, he asked me to pose for another one.
It occurred to me that youth and train journeys share a common quality. They symbolize adventure and new discoveries. And that’s the way it should be.
Some of the train journeys of my youth held that adventure. On train journeys with friends, there were lots of laughter and funny, kooky observations as we hovered around the threshold of adulthood. A train ride with my father created a quiet, peaceful kind of bonding. And the train rides taken alone were early experiments in independence. When there was a shift in our family structure, though, some train journeys became tinged with more complicated emotions than just adventure.
I heard and read that many Singaporeans have taken a final train ride to Malaysia before the tracks would be closed for good in July. A friend suggested that we take such a ride. Sounded like a logical thing to do, but I didn’t have a strong desire to do so. Perhaps, it’s because the many trips are somehow still fresh in my memory. I can recall the feel of the seat, the chugging vibrations of the train’s movements, and looking out of the windows with their slightly murky panes.
And somehow, the station, rather than the train, seems to play a bigger role in my imagination today.
Walking out of the entrance, I passed the taxi stand. It was still situated where it had always been all these years. I stood there for a while. And I could see the scene during the station’s heyday when the taxi line was long with the returning passengers, eager to catch a taxi onwards to the comforts of home.
Then I left the station and started walking towards the bus stop. This time, I had no baggage.
Goodbye to a long-standing landmark. Captured in my camera, and in the pages of my personal history.
Strange, really strange behavior. That went through my mind when I saw a clip of a new TV series “My Strange Addiction” recently.
This series will feature people with unusual addictions, and what got my interest going was a woman named Lori, who could not sleep unless her hair dryer is lying next to her.
It began at the age of eight when Lori started sleeping with a hair dryer running. Since then she likes the comfort that the hair dryer gives her, even though it has caused some burns on her arms and some romantic relationships.
Well, I know that there are many people who like to have something fuzzy or furry like a teddy bear to take to sleep. In Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia, many children and some adults are addicted to sleeping hugging a bolster. In fact, the Malay name for a bolster is bantal peluk, which literally means hugging pillow.
But a hair dryer: now that is new.
Posted in Food, Malay abroad, Singapore, tagged basmati rice, biryani, California, comfort food, curry, food, Malaysia, Pakistani dishes, pudding, relish, restaurant, rice on May 7, 2010 | 6 Comments »
Briyani rice is big in our family.
Briyani is a rice dish where good quality rice, usually basmati, is cooked with lots of onions and a complex blend of spices. Meat, fish, vegetables may also be added. Traditionally, mutton or lamb briyani is a dish to celebrate important occasions. And in our family, we have a long line of relatives who make excellent briyani, and who view skimping on the spices as almost a crime.
Thus I like my briyani full-bodied and robust, and I like to have it on a regular basis.
When I moved to California, I couldn’t find briyani that satisfied my taste, and I was really missing my briyani fix. Then I met Odah, a Singaporean lady, in the supermarket. We became acquainted and she told me that she knew of a restaurant near where we live that makes briyani “like the one we get in Singapore”. So we went to Noorani Restaurant in Garden Grove which serves Pakistani and Indian cuisine, and true enough, they serve briyani that was closest to the taste that I’m used to.
I’ve lost touch with Odah. But Odah, if you are reading this, or wherever you are, thanks again for the tip.
Now I go to the restaurant once every two weeks or so, or whenever the craving strikes. I usually order lamb briyani. Recently, the Malaysia Association of Southern California held its “Makan Makan” event, the association’s regular dining out activity, at Noorani. I decided to join in so that I could sample a bigger variety of dishes.
We were served beef briyani and plain briyani with a hearty lamb curry, tandoori chicken, okra cooked in spices and fried fish nuggets. We also had chicken karahi which is another of my favorite dishes. The base for this dish is a blend of spices and tomatoes.
I was told by one of the diners, Pat, that the word karahi refers to a round cooking pot used in Pakistani and Indian cooking. Well, that’s an interesting fact to learn.
Just as a turkey meal needs cranberry sauce, briyani needs a sourish or a sweet/sour relish to balance the richness. The restaurant serves mint raita, a yogurt sauce which has a nice tang. I like my briyani with spicy cucumber pickles (acar timun), or with a version of cucumber-onion raita that my grandmother used to make, using thin coconut milk instead of yogurt.
I guess, one day, I’ll have to learn to make these relishes to go with the briyani, as well as suji, a creamy semolina pudding which, for me, is the perfect dessert to end a briyani meal.
Then I can sit down to a meal that will transport me across oceans and across generations.
To read about my search for good briyani in Northern California, see more at http://buildingbridgesworld.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/the-briyani-trail/
It has to be one of the best sounds in the world. I’m referring to the singing of birds.
The rearing of songbirds has traditionally been a well-loved pastime in Singapore and Malaysia. Enthusiasts spend hours training the birds to sing a tune, and pampering the adored creatures with special food and tricks to make them better crooners.
The mynah or burung tiong is particularly treasured for its singing ability. In my kampung or childhood home, we had a mynah named Gincu, the Malay word for lipstick. It was trained to sing, speak and do a little jig. Whenever it noticed a passer-by, it would say in its wonderfully clear voice “Gincu tabik tuan” which means “Gincu salutes you, sir”.
Today, personally, I’m not comfortable with the idea of birds being caged. But I still love the chirping and singing of birds. In spring, when the day is sunny, different birds come to my backyard and the surrounding ones with their own little melodies.
To me, that’s the beauty and highlight of spring.
This year, Eid celebrations fall in the month of September. Eid, or Hari Raya Aidilfitri as it is known in the Malay language, is the festival that celebrates the end of the month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the holy month in Islam where believers fast from dawn to sunset, and also abstain from negative thoughts and behavior, with the goal of strengthening one’s faith and character.
Hari Raya celebrates the victory of fulfilling the month of fasting, and it is also a time of renewal: both spiritual renewal and the renewal of ties among family, friends and the community.
The word “renewal” is a beautiful word. It connotes the linkage between a foundation that is already there and a rejuvenation, often with something new or improved. Embedded in the word is also the essence of hope, a quality that we all need through good and tough times.
As Malaysia’s Independence Day draws near on August 31, a group of Malaysian artists can reflect that this year, they reached a new milestone in their artistic journeys.
For the first time, the Matahati group of artists exhibited their works in the United States. The exhibition “Matahati ke Matadunia: Malaysian Contemporary Art to the World” was held in May through June in Santa Monica, near Los Angeles California. A forum and several workshops with American artists were also part of the whole event.
The event also marked a milestone for Fausin MdIsa, a Malaysian designer, artist and entrepreneur, based in California. His vision is to bring Malaysian contemporary art to the United States, and it took him two years of organization to finally put it all together.
The Matahati group is known in Malaysia and in the region as an influential group of artists whose technically accomplished works feature personal narratives, commentary on social issues, history and identity, often daring and thought-provoking. The artists who brought their works to the United States are Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Ahmad Fuad, Ahmad Shukri, Hamir Soib and Masnor Ramli Mahmod. Each has his own unique style.
Fausin considers the exhibition a success on several levels. “The art enthusiasts in California were pleasantly surprised to see not only the mastery of techniques by the artists, but also the themes and the global issues that they express in their paintings,” he adds.
At the opening, many of the guests were intrigued by Fuad’s “To Whom It May Concern”. In this painting, a crowd holds pictures of Obama facing a backdrop of historical figures, both inspiring and notorious, such as Ghandi, Churchill and Stalin. Fuad explained that people all over the world, not just in America, were excited at Obama’s election. At the same time, the backdrop of faces symbolizes the question which path of leadership will Obama take. History meets uncharted waters, and the world watches with hope or cynicism.
The guests were impressed by the depth’s of Fuad’s questioning and the historical sweep of the image.
Bayu’s portraits evoked this reaction from an art enthusiast: “As an artist who works with charcoal, I find his manner of using this medium to be very creative. There is a palpable sense of passion and an inward quest in his portraits.”
“At the same time, exposure works two way,” says Fausin. “Just by being in a different environment and getting feedback on your work contributes to the growth of an artist.”
The exhibition will be going to another American city next year, and onwards to other destinations. After all, Fausin and Matahati believes that art is a universal language, with the power to unite us globally.
Peking Duck is a dish that signifies a special treat or a special occasion. It is one of my favorites, and on my recent trip to Asia, I had the opportunity to enjoy it in Johor Bahru.
We ordered Peking Dish at the Lotus Garden Restaurant, a fine dining, halal, Chinese restaurant at the Zon Regency Hotel. The restaurant also offers great service and some seating have lovely views of the sea. We were there to celebrate the birthdays of two family members and to spend time together, so it was both a culinary treat and a special occasion.
It is said that the Peking Duck dates back to China’s imperial era. One of the essential aspects of Peking Duck is the skin. The skin must be thin, crispy, and glistening deep brown in color. An important step in the preparation process is to pump air into the duck to separate the skin from the fat. This enables the skin to take on its thin, crispy texture during roasting.
Ordering Peking Duck is like ordering crepe suzette at a restaurant. The drama of the preparation is part of the pleasure and ritual of the dish. The duck is presented to the diners at a side table or cart. This was done at the Lotus Garden. A member of the staff expertly carved the bird, while we looked on in anticipation.
The individual servings were also assembled at the cart. Each thin, white pancake was filled with slices of the skin and meat, stalks of spring onion and a sauce, which was like hoisin sauce. They were served with a small dish of extra dipping sauce. The combination of flavors and textures was quite exquisite.
I find it interesting that Peking Duck is served with the thin, white pancakes in Singapore and Malaysia, while in the United States, it is usually served with buns which, I’m told by a friend, is the way this dish is served in China. For me, it’s hands down for the thin pancakes.
As is the usual custom when one orders Peking Duck, the diner would be asked how would he or she like the rest of the bird to be served. One of the popular ways is to stir-fry the meat with noodles. But my uncle was keen to have the meat cooked in spicy black pepper sauce. We agreed to his adventurous suggestion, and we were not disappointed.
We also had several other dishes such as Sizzling Tofu and Vegetables and Braised Venison Ribs which we really enjoyed. We ended the meal with a perfectly done classic dessert of Chinese pancake with red bean filling.
The firefly colonies along the Kuala Selangor River in Malaysia may face destruction soon, it was reported in the news this week.
AFP reports: “If we do not do anything, the lights will go out for the fireflies by the end of the year,” said Elizabeth Wong, who heads tourism and environmental affairs in the state of Selangor, which surrounds Malaysia’s capital.
Wong said environmental groups had alerted the state government to the “impending destruction” of the riverside firefly colony, which lies about 90 minutes’ drive from Kuala Lumpur.
Tourists flock to the area to watch the fireflies, which cluster in riverside trees and produce a magical light display as males and females communicate.
Tour operators say the number of insects has fallen sharply because of development in the area.
Wong said that despite the region’s being declared a firefly sanctuary, almost 95 acres (38 hectares) of land along the Selangor river had been cleared of the trees in which fireflies live.”
This news impacted me emotionally as I visited the fireflies sanctuary some years back , and it was the one of the most enchanting nights that I have experienced. (The name for firefly in Bahasa Malaysia is kelip kelip which means ‘to twinkle’.)
We boarded a simple, wooden boat, and along the riverbanks, the fireflies clustered and twinkled on the trees. Visitors were requested to be quiet so as not to disturb the insects. “Nature’s own Christmas trees” was the description that came my mind.
In the stillness of the night, the only sounds being heard were the swishing of the oars against the water, we watched tree after tree of that magical display. A firefly landed on the boatman’s hand, and he beckoned us to take a closer look. We leaned forward and smiled at the sight of the little creature which created such beauty in groups.
In the report, Bert Che, senior executive with Firefly Park Resort, which organizes the river tours, was quoted as saying: “I hope everyone will treasure our fireflies. If we don’t, our next generation will not be able to see the insects.”
I’m sure many of us will support and hope that the fireflies population will be protected and saved.