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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Unto Ash you return

Today, 1st of March marks the Ash Wednesday for the Catholic calendars worldwide which also initiates the season of Lent.

Before I proceed with further jargons which may confuse you readers out there, I'll just make this simple; Lent season is a 40-days period which is a journey before Easter and its significance also lies in the 40 days in the desert. During this 40 days, it is also a time of fast and abstinence of the Catholic community worldwide to reflect on their sins and the suffering of others around the world.
As we journey towards the glory of Jesus rising again on Easter, we should also bear in mind the sufferings He went through.

That was the brief summary about the Lent season :)
As for today, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lent season and being one of the important days in the Catholic calendar, most of the Catholics will be attending masses all over the world to mark the solemnity of the period. The interesting bit of this occasion is the palms from the previous year(from Palm Sunday...another story...I will cover about that in another entry) are burnt to ashes. These ashes will be collected and then used during the ash marking ceremony in the mass today.

Every parishioner will be receiving the ash where the priest will make a mark with the ash on the forehead of each and every parishioner. Now, the reason behind this marking of the forehead is actually to remind us of our origins; the quote "From ash you come and unto ash you will return" which literally means that we were nothing before and thus we shall return to this state as well.

I will also be attending mass and observe the solemnity of the event.
God bless everyone! :)

P.S.: This is just a sharing article and is not intended to invoke any offensive materials from the religious viewpoint.

Monday, February 27, 2006

First day of 2nd lunar month

So, it's been a month ago since Chinese New Year and today is the first day of the 2nd month in the lunar calendar :)

As usual, it is typical to see the florist and fruit stalls popping up on the roadside twice a month; once on the last day of the month(the lunar calendar, please:P) and another is during the mid-month period; which is also the 15th day of the month. These days are observed by the Chinese community; particularly the Buddhists and the Taoists as the former stick to being vegetarians while the latter also practises the same but also at the same time, offering to the deities flowers, fruits and little cakes such as the one captured.

This is the popular little flour cakes as I call them; (this picture was taken ages ago) ...sometime last year. In Penang, you see different types of these flour cakes; they come in even orange flavours, gula melaka and pandan :) But of course, the most popular is still the pink ones due to the offering to the deities and the colour is more appropriate with the auspicious tint of red as they call it. In fact, some sellers actually put a tad bit too much of the color into these little cakes that they get totally too "poisonous" for human consumption.

There is another rendition of this kueh used for offerings; which is called the "Huat kueh" (in Hokkien) which are actually rice cakes. Made from rice and a little coconut milk(or santan), they are almost similar in appearance but the rice cakes are smaller in size. They are the preferred offering choice since they used the different type of flour; i believe it's the rising flour which makes the cakes blossom and thus the name "huat"(blossom or expand in Hokkien). Due to its auspicious meaning and pronounciation which could mean the growing and expanding wealth and fortune, it is not a surprise why it is a favoured option for offerings :)
For me however, i still prefer the type in the picture and I recently found out that there is another amusing name for this kueh; they call it the English/Western style of Huat Kueh...probably due to the cup cakes style:)

The All NEW Yahoo!

Check out the new outlook in Yahoo...I think they just updated it :

It looks more "blue-ish" now....hmmm, I should say it's a little similar to the MSN search engine; in terms of the design and the layout itself :)

Petrol increase by 30 sen!!

They have done it again...the petrol price is taking hike again and this time, drastically increasing by 30 cents. Hmmm...and they mentioned that this will be the only increase for this year....yeah, how "ideal" that sounds :P (Keeping my fingers crossed...or pockets intact).

I bet most of the petrol stations last night were packed with cars trying to get their tanks filled at a price 30 cents per litre cheaper...hehe...."kiasu" attitude :)
That's the picture each time they announce the news of this fuel price increase anyhow. I think this is the highest increase by far and I even heard from a colleague that the petrol stations were so elated at this piece of news that they even refused to sell petrol last night. That's pretty outrageous if you ask me...and they certainly have no right to do such a thing!

Following the trend since last year, the prices of petrol have been steadily increasing for like....how many times? Man, I've even lost count :(

Point is, there are people out there who earns a meager income, barely enough to feed themselves and at the same time, bogged down with financial duties (i.e.: feeding the family,scrapping off the household expenditure, house loan, car loan, bills, and not forgetting the taxes!) Well, this is just one common scenario.

Probably most of us would say, "Hey, then give up on the car if you cannot afford to maintain it", which is not entirely an untrue statement. However, on the other side of the picture, there is also the issue of the ease of transportation. Let's view the situation from a different perspective now; in Malaysia, we do have the public transportation such as the KTM, LRT, monorail, buses, taxis, etc. At the same time, there is also limitations to our public transports. I am sure most of us are aware of the fact that the trains(KTM, LRT, monorail, etc) are only to be found in the capital; Kuala Lumpur which of course hosts the most infrastructures and job opportunities and not to mention the worse traffic jams as compared to the other states in the region. Furthermore, the public buses and taxis are not exactly the best modes of getting you somewhere as well and I am sure most of us have read of those buses being late for an hour. Imagine that when you are rushing to work or for an interview!!~

As in the other states, they typically do not have much choices but to take the buses or cabs to work. Alternatively, m
ost of them own their own cars.

Another good example would be Penang; which is also a growing industrial zone and thus hosting a large number of outstation folks from other states. There's increasing traffic using the only link between the mainland and the island which is the Penang bridge (there's supposedly plans for the widening of the bridge or a new bridge...). Also, they are thinking of increasing the bridge toll...(are they robbing us or what??)
In this scenario, are there any other forms of transport which you can think of if not driving your own car? They do have ferries to bring the people from one end to the other; but just take a look at the queue each day and you will give up that idea shortly..haha:) Another alternative, learn up swimming lessons and strengthen those biceps by making laps towards your destination <*wink*>

In all, let's just keep our fingers crossed that this will...(true to their word) be the one and only increase for this year...(I still wonder and doubt within reasonable doubts). In the meantime, carpool is also another good option...killing several birds at the same time; save petrol and environment, foster closer relationships, bla bla bla....to keep it short, just fill up your tanks and lessen travel if you are trying to minimize your expenditure. Don't frown too much over this...life is too short to worry all about the fuel in your cars....worry more about the fuel in your body....and don't allow your blood pressure to take a hike as well....hehehe.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Typical storyline...but with a good actor like Harrison Ford to add the value to the movie. Basically Firewall is just your conventional movie where Harrison Ford plays a security professional who implements the software to control the security of the customers' data in the financial institutions and banks. Safely guarding all these data are highly enforced security in the records itself including the password protected which round up to the objective of preventing any data loss or hacking for the benefit of the crooks.
Anyway, there is this syndicate, led by Cox or Bill Redmond (played by Paul Bettany) who had their eyes on Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) in planning out their robbery drama. Thus, they observed and drafted their plan which led them to holding up the Stanfield family; Mrs. Stanfield and the two children in threatening and manipulating Jack to bow to fulfilling their wishes. Jack was adamant in defying their requirements and attempted several times to wiggle his way out of the situation. The reason behind his stubbornness is due to his belief that things may not be that simple and the robbers will not keep to their promise since they have revealed themselves to the Stanfields.However, he was more often than not outsmarted or rather outwitted by the conniving Cox and ended up receiving penalties worse than the previous ones.
Cox used his son's allergy to nuts to put him on his end. Finally, baffled, Jack gave in and did as he was told; breaking into his own software, withdrawing money(USD$10,000) from 10 of the bank's richest customers and deleting all the captured records. This put his superior hot on his track and he soon realized that he was in more trouble than he ever imagined. The poor guy thought that by fulfilling all of their commands, he would have his family back but no, his whole family disappeared once he reached home upon the completion of his mission. Then he realized that the whole ploy was more than he bargained for; he was setup for the whole conspiracy and also the murder of his best friend, Harry which struck the final blow to him and Jack finally retaliated.
Engaging his previous secretary(whom he gave the sack upon Cox's demand..that was a pretty funny scene), Janet, he hacked into Cox's account and withdrew the money. Driving Cox crazy, it is Jack's turn to demand for his family's safe return if Cox wants his money back. At the same time, Jack used the GPS on his dog's collar(yeah, the dog was installed with the GPS system as he was always running around) and well, it was pretty useful and led Jack and Janet hot on their tracks until the dog made such a racket in the van which annoyed the robbers and they decided to drop him off, much to the despair of Beth and the children. Anyhow, the final scene was the duel between Jack and Cox; Jack killed the bad guy and the whole family got back together again.
That was pretty much the gist of the movie; and now to the actual humble review. I think the overall plot is pretty significant and known from the start of the movie; and also as I mentioned earlier, it's a typical storyline and pretty predictable plot. One thing to note however is the performances of the actors; I think they put up a pretty decent show and Harrison Ford is at his usual self..veteran acting, what else can I say?:P The rest of the cast were okay....but I'd say that Paul Bettany is not exactly expressive enough in the movie and putting on a straight front most of the time does not account much for a villain.
At the same time, the pace of the movie was not too draggy and was alright. So, in all, if you were to ask me whether this is worth watching, it should be alright for IT savvy folks...and also for those who enjoy movies of this genre...and of course, if you are a Harrison Ford fan :) Not bad for a Sunday movie watching and if you do not lay too much hopes and expectation <*wink*>

Monday, February 20, 2006

Oriental Pearl

After covering on the outskirts of the cities, let's move our focus back to civilization :)
After all, Shanghai is a city and a highly advanced once as well.
Speaking of Shanghai, what comes to mind...hmmm...for those who are into the black box days of Chinese dramas, one would automatically link this city with the triad days and nightclubs and the high class society. One of the fondly remembered drama would be The Bund(Shanghai Tan) starring Chow Yun Fatt :)
Well, since it is so popular, it may not then come as a surprise to you that there is actually such a place in Shanghai which is known as The Bund;) In fact, it is one of the famous tourist attractions in this city and it is also located in the heart of the city. The Bund is a stretch of walkway which overlooks a river, I would say a big river. This river actually connects the sides of the city; Pudong and Puxi and there is also a subway or underground passage beneath the river which links these 2 cities together. Another of the main attraction is also the famous Oriental Tower or "Tung Fang Ming Chu"(in Chinese which directly translates to the Oriental Pearl Tower). Hehe...we already have the Pearl of the Orient here in Malaysia, which is actually the Penang Island and thus, in order not to create further confusion, I decide to call this tower the Oriental Pearl...just a different arrangement of words but semantically it is slightly different. Anyway, as we are not conducting an English proficiency class here, let's get back to our tour :)
The first picture was taken at the Bund; and we are on the Puxi side of the bridge whereby Oriental Pearl Tower is in Pudong which is set in the background. It is the highest structure slightly deviated to the left in the picture with a round and ball-like structure in the middle and a sharp pointed arch to the sky. As you can see, it was actually raining the time we were there and the skies are cloudy....too bad on a day you decide to do some sightseeing and touring:P Furthermore, our Shanghai friends actually told us that it seemed kind of a trend that it rains very heavily on weekends and also as predicted in the weather forecast...of all the hopes and luck...all washed away:(
The next picture was a night view of the tower which was actually captured on the first night I was in Shanghai; basically I have been to that same place twice:p
The tower, as I was told was actually a telecommunication tower; probably something like our Menara Telekom or Telekom Tower in Malaysia. Since it's a tourist spot, there are some fees incurred in visiting the tower. Anyhow, this is definitely not the only skyscraper in Shanghai, I am sure you can tell based on the continuous growth and development in one of the busiest cities. In fact, there is actually an ongoing construction of the highest building in the world somewhere nearby the Tower when I was in Shanghai and I was told that it is expected to complete by this year; 2006. Furthermore, the area was also surrounded by banks and financial institutions which is definitely not a surprise as Shanghai is also known as a growing financial city.
Moving away from the hustle bustle of the city, we also paid a visit to another tourist attraction which was The Yu garden (Yu Yuan in Chinese) which was historically an official's garden now converted into a shopping bazaar of some sort, commercially selling all the souvenir-like collectibles. In fact, my mentor had fun shopping around....hehe...with souvenirs for her friends, family and relatives. We did have some nasty encounters though with some of the folks selling those wooden chess sets in the plaza:( However, it may not be politically and technically polite to comment on the people and culture in the country as we do need to respect the diversity we may come across the globe.

This is the Yu Garden and as you can see, it's actually raining and you can imagine the chill....hmmm, let me rephrase that, the COLD when it rains during winter season, be it day or night:p
Anyway, I am sure you can see that the architecture of the buildings are pretty unique which is basically shaped in the olden style of the Chinese buildings and temples; typically resembling more of the pagoda-style.
After a freezing experience and the dark settling in pretty soon (it gets dark by 5pm here in Shanghai but the skies are also pretty bright by 6am....guess it's due to its geographical location towards the east...nearer to Mrs. Sun:), we then proceeded to hail a cab to head to Pudong for dinner; one of our friends was thoughtful enough to make reservations for dinner at a nice restaurant in one of the huge shopping malls overlooking The Bund; it's well-known due to its location and everyone is vying for the window seats which entails them the opportunity to enjoy a good panoramic view of the Bund at night...with all the lights, etc. Unfortunately, our friend was unable to get those seats although she booked a week ahead...anyhow, we didn't mind as we got ourselves a private room and toasted to a good dinner after a long day in the rain.
Oh ya, I even forgot to mention about the policy here in hailing a cab...it seems you have to be pretty aggressive in waving down a taxi or you will be stranded in town until the wee hours of the morning:p At the same time, you may also be accused of jumping the line for the cabs; in fact our friend was actually called a "b****" just because she got a taxi before a family. I think they were pretty unfair in saying that as there was no line whatsoever at that point of the time. It was indeed an eye-opener here in the big city where the cabs and public transport seem to be very much in demand...and the cars here drive at Initial D speed:p
Back home in Kuala Lumpur, public transports are also in demand but still pale in comparison to the picture here in Shanghai.
So, that's the short summary of a day in the tour around Shanghai....we caught a cab...again fighting our way to it after dinner and finally reach our hotel for a peaceful rest :)
Thanks to Kelsey, Mark and Rachel for that wonderful tour and also your hospitality for the whole day!!!:)

Water villages in China

Finally, I have decided to post something on my recent trip to China...erm, probably not so recent anymore as it was in last year. Then again, it was towards the end of year 2005. I was there...hmmm...due to job nature and not on leisure travelling. However, as all business travels permit, sometimes we can squeeze in a lil' bit of time for some sightseeing :p
Since I was there for a duration of 3 weeks, I kinda have about 3 weekends for some shopping and also sightseeing.
Oooh...and also, this happens to be my maiden business trip and I was sent to Shanghai, China for training...to train people, in exact....and along with my mentor :)
China...I was glad that I was sent to Shanghai as it happened to be the most advanced city in the country and man, was I amazed by the high skyscrapers as well and also the networking of the highways. However, development has a price...and here, as in other major booming cities around the world, the traffic is BAD...and no offense meant, the driving is in a rage and really swift in action...kinda make you feel like you are in some action movies or something. In fact, you may feel like you drive like an amateur driver or in other words, a tortoise back at home..haha :P
Alright, let's move on to a little bit of the places which I went to during my first weekend.
I took a bus....hmmm...of course not alone!!....with a one-day tour to 2 of the famous water villages in China which lies adjacent in location to Shanghai...approximately an hour's journey. Zhou Zhuang and Tong Li are the water villages which are also known as the Venice of the East.
Well, comparably, Tong Li is smaller whereas Zhou Zhuang is the more renowned name in the water villages and is thus more commercialized. Anyhow, it was cold and windy that day (did I mention I was in Shanghai during the start of winter?brrrr....during the November/December timeline). The following were the pictures captured of the scenery in those two little towns.
If you happen to watch Chinese dramas, especially those set in the older eras, such as Romance in the Rain, Love in Shanghai, etc, you will definitely find those places familiar. In fact, I was amazed by the power of civilization and how far have we come. I was also intrigued by the olden houses or rather mansions in these places.
In fact, the houses, as we were told belong to the rich and famous and some even the officials of the time. I was also told that due to commercialization purposes, these places have been renovated and repainted for the ease of viewing of the tourists. Guess, the actual historic value is lost there :( Even in our country, the same thing is happening to the historical towns which is kinda sad as the conservation value is diminished. However, to be on the rational side, in order to preserve it for the future generation, there should be some maintenance work, else, they will only get to know about those places or artefacts through books or hearsay;)

The first 2 pictures are of the park captured in Zhou Zhuang.
Then the 2nd picture on the left is captured in one of the olden officials' house and the one below it is a display of the olden ritual of a Chinese wedding ceremony.

An ancient opera house in Zhou Zhuang.

Personally, I'd say I prefer Tong Li(which also happens to be my first destination) to Zhou Zhuang as it was still more conservative in nature:)
It started to rain in Zhou Zhuang and the weather was really freezing cold...but all in all, it was a pleasant visit and definitely memorable :)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Valentine's Day (V-Day)

Flowers, chocolates, candlelit dinners, quiet moments....all these come to mind when the V-Day word pops out of the mouth. One thing's for sure, it's definitely romance and love in the air on this day :)
Dating back to history, there were a few versions on how this day actually came into the celebration picture. One of the versions is in commemoration of St. Valentine who actually helped to matchmake the young couples and also performed the marriage ceremony for those in prisons. Another would be the more popular version which entails the drawing of the names among the young boys and girls to find their match. Pretty interesting if you trace the evolution process back then to what V-Day is all about today; of course, let's ignore the present booming commercialization used to the full advantage of the traders.
In perception, it's actually a day to observe romance; (yeah, they only realize the people they love exist on this day, once in a year :P ) and also to make an effort to make this day as sweet and loving as well. For attached couples, it's a day to refine and rekindle the old flame and spark whereas for singles, it may be a day to confront the person you have been in love with for so long and to let that person know how you feel.
Gradually this was seen as an opportunity by the traders to market and promote their products used in this direction. However, I do think that it's a rather sweet idea to have little gifts or momentos from your loved ones or that special person as it makes you feel treasured and important...(guess the capitalizing on this trait in the commercial market may not be all wrong after all ;) What could mean more than to see that smile or surprise on your special someone's face when he/she receives the gift from you and also how pleasant and sweet for you to receive the gift from him/her :) It's proably a simple gesture but could leave a melting feeling in the heart.
Furthermore, the day reveals plenty of surprises as well, from simple wishes to intimacy...I mean the sharing and engaging in deep conversations, having those long heart to heart talks between the two lovebirds ( for those who rarely communicate all year long)
Anyhow, aside from the common perception that V-Day is only for lovers, it is also a day for your loved ones; friends, families, etc.
So, you do not have to feel left out if you are still single and unattached as there is still lots of people out there who loves you and it does not necessarily have to be in a romantic sense. To be loved is a wonderful feeling and to share it, you can also love others around you in turn. Maybe you can also tell yourself to forgive and forget those who may have crossed the wrong path with you before and learn to accept their mistakes to be buried in the past. That way you are also cultivating love and diminishing hate..isn't that already an accomplishment? :)
As for the lovers or are about-to-be lovers, it is a time to share and care and also let the person know how much you love them. Cherish the moment you have and make it a point that it should not be the only day you shower them with love and happiness; everyday is Valentine's if you love them and take note that you do not have to give them big presents each day; it's the little things which matter the most. Even a short sms or a call is enough to show your partner/loved one that he/she is on your mind all the time.
Treasure every moment you have and never be afraid to express yourself, tomorrow may never come and today is the gift....so, seize the day and to all of you out there, have a wonderful Valentine's Day and love as you have been loved :D