Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I learned from my wife (who is from Sarawak) that there is a place in Sarawak called "Tatau". It used to be just a small town, Pekan Tatau, in the Bintulu District, but now it is a district by itself.

Now, what is interesting about this place is that the name sounds like the Malay phrase "tak tahu" (colloquially, often pronounced with the "h" silent), which means "don't know".


Suppose that (and this is purely my imagination; any similarity to the real experience of a real person is entirely coincidental) a boy from Tatau goes to a school in a city in a different district because his family has moved there; on his first day in his new school, the following conversation between the boy and one of his not-so-well-informed teachers is very likely:

Teacher: Nama kamu siapa? (What is your name?)

Boy: Toh Ah Tau, cikgu. (~, teacher.)

Teacher: Kamu berasal dari mana? (Where do you hail from?)

Boy: Tatau, cikgu. (Sounds like "I don't know, teacher.")

Teacher: Tak tahu? (You don't know?)

Boy: Ya, Tatau. (Sounds like "Yes, I don't know.")

Teacher: Mengapa tak tahu? ("How come you don't know?" But it sounds like "Mengapa Tatau?" - Why Tatau? - to the boy.)

Boy (now very, very puzzled): Tak tahu. Saya bukannya ada pilihan... (I don't know. It's not like I had a choice...)



This reminds me of how "kangaroos" purportedly got their name. It might have gone like this:

British settler: What is this place called?

Local: Tak tahu.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Dream Home in Gertak Sanggul?

We went to Gertak Sanggul the other day fully expecting to find serene fishing village, beautiful beaches, wide open sea and clear blue sky, and we did find all of those; but, we also found something rather unusual for a small village filled with typical old Kampung Cina houses - we found a small housing development with only two rows of double-story bungalows (OK, I know bungalows are supposed to be only single-storied, but I need to speak Malaysian, right?)

The picture below shows one that is for sale:

Naturally, our curiosity was piqued, so we started looking around.

Now, as you go into the nice little housing area, you will find around a dozen houses like the one you see in the picture above, on either side of you. These are completed units (in fact, they were completed more than three years ago), while further down the road, you will find another two rows of about two dozen houses of a different design being constructed. Different in design, but also having a somewhat Northern European influence, like the completed ones.


We found out a bit later from one of the house owners who was cycling around for some exercise that the completed units (one of which he owns) are double-story, as they appear on the outside, with four rooms (three upstairs, one downstairs) and three bathrooms (two up, one down) and his row has got particularly spacious backyards. The ones still under construction are one-and-a-half story houses, with only the master room upstairs, but nevertheless has got THREE bedrooms downstairs (the first thing that came across my mind: ideal for households with elders), albeit with a smaller living room (personally, I don't care about that).

Anyway, the bad news is, those under construction are mostly snatched up already, with only a couple of units left that are on the furthest end, near the foot of the hill ("anyway," that nice fellow who talked to us reassured us that, "the hill is basically solid rock; they had to dynamite it just to get the construction started, so there's no worry about landslide." He's a local, so he's supposed to know).

A further bad news: those 1-1/2 story houses will set you back at least RM390,000. But RM450,000 is more likely. Ouch.

What about that completed unit up for grab (as shown in the picture above)?

The owner is asking for RM560,000. You can maybe haggle that down to around RM54x,xxx, but don't expect to go below the half-million line. :-(

Call a Mr. Lim if you are interested:


Anyway, back to our adventure:

That nice local house-owner suddenly offered (we tend to get this kind of offer; in fact, that's how we ended up buying our house in Nibong Tebal) to take us into his home for a look-see.

And we accepted his offer.

He had added some further decoration and furnishing to his home. The ones that I remember are: around 10 thousand for the tiles in the front porch (Ouch! I said to myself), around 7 thousand for the nice, tidy looking lawn (ouch! ouch!), and then there are those usual internal decors (I did not even dare to really take note of the figure).

We were looking around the kitchen when a head poked in suspiciously and cautiously from the living room. She saw me first, and I waved "hi" to her, and she was startled. From where she stood, she couldn't see her husband. I suddenly felt like the stranger that I was.


It was not that the fellow's wife did not welcome us, but I felt a little embarrassed, and was all for a hasty retreat, so I made some excuse about the time being late, and bade farewell to the nice young couple who let us two strangers into their home.

But while walking out, my wife struck up a conversation with the mistress of the house and there, in the front porch, we had a further ten minutes of chat.

Towards the end of the conversation, the master of the house asked me, "So, are you considering buying a house here?"

Faced with that straightforward question, I suddenly came up with an answer that I later realized to be truer than I had meant at that time, "Not really. My wife might be posted anywhere after her training is over, so it really is not the best time to start thinking about where to find a permanent residence. In fact, the house we bought in Nibong Tebal is now left untenanted."

And that is very true. It really is not the time to be looking around for dream houses.


Besides (and this I didn't say to that nice chap), I really, really do not have half a million with me to buy that house. :-p

At home that night, I suddenly said to my wife, "We need to pray for that house we visited, particularly that it should not get burglarized."


"Well, if the house gets broken into within the next few days, we would be the prime suspects, wouldn't we? It's like, we were scouting out the area."

"My, you've got a point!"


Moral of the story: don't simply accept the invitation to go into an apparently rich household.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dumbo @ Art - Watercolor #1: Bricks

This post is actually a reminder to myself of the new trick I learned today. It is something that may come in handy when painting buildings in watercolor.


The picture below (kind of fuzzy, because the phone on my camera has no auto-focus, so, at close distance, this is the best it could do) is a practice painting I did this afternoon.

Err... don't try to guess the motif of the picture (especially those out there who are Chinese-educated); there was no motif. I wanted to draw a brick wall, so I drew a brick wall, and then simply added a man and some dry branches. I had NO motif in my mind, OK?

Now, having clarified that, let's get back to the issue at hand: painting brick walls. The bricks you see in this picture are practically impossible to do with a soft brush. Unless you are the real master in this sort of thing.

So, how was it done?

With a broad-tip calligraphy pen.

Yeah, I know. That's kind of cheating. But, well, I'm just an ordinary guy trying to paint a passable brick wall once in a while, OK?

The part I loved about doing this is the unexpected variation in colors. I had a few pools of various hues mixed from vermilion, cadmium yellow and cobalt blue. Then I just "layered" out those bricks, going through the different pools of hues without washing the pen. And, voila, an interesting brick wall in three simple steps:

1) mix pools of desired colors (it can't be too diluted; it has to be a bit thick so as not to run all over the place);
2) imagine a brick wall (not plastered over, of course);
3) draw the brick wall.

OK... I'm not cut out to be a good arts teacher... :-)

But there, a brick wall.


I was quite pleased with the result of the experiment, until my wife came in:

"红杏出墙?" she laughed.

How many times do I have to say, I had NO motif in my mind when I did that!!!

Dumbo On The Go - #1: Gertak Sanggul

I thought I knew Penang Island quite well.

Then I discovered that, well, I didn't. Especially the west coast of Penang Island.

Ever since my wife and I sort of moved to Pantai Acheh, we had been planning to visit all the accessible beaches and fishing villages on this side of the island, and Gertak Sanggul was on the top of my wife's list.

She first heard about the place when a colleague of hers was supposed to be transferred to a school there this year, but refused to go. "That place is so remote!"

(Well, now I'm really optimistic about the future of our education system.)

Anyway, the name of the place somehow appealed to my wife's fancy. She has been imagining how beautiful the place must be, before I even showed her the satellite image. And after I did, she was even more convinced than ever that it would be among the most beautiful beaches in Penang. "We simply have to go there one of these afternoons!"

Bubbly. That's the word to describe her when she said that.

Personally, I was a bit apprehensive about the idea, knowing how bad the road condition is going south from Balik Pulau. And besides, I wasn't sure I could find that particular junction in Teluk Kumbar that leads to Gertak Sanggul.

"But we haven't even been to Pulau Betong yet, which is nearer!" And may I add, the road there is straighter. Much straighter.

But there was no stopping my wife.

So, yesterday around 5pm, we started from Pantai Acheh, and headed for Gertak Sanggul (美湖).


Well, let me first say that, it is easy to miss the aforementioned junction in Teluk Kumbar.

If you head there from Balik Pulau, you won't find any road sign pointing you to Gertak Sanggul prior to that junction. And at the junction itself, there is only the name of the road to give you the clue.

"That junction we just passed by... I thought I saw a sign naming the road 'Jalan Gertak Sanggul'," my wife said after we overshot the junction.


Anyway, if you go there from Bayan Lepas, you will have slightly better luck, because there is a road sign pointing you to the right direction just before the junction. Nevertheless, you need to keep your eyes peeled once you are in the Teluk Kumbar precinct because the said road sign is kind of obscured by other haphazardly-placed signs.


Once you found the right junction to turn into, there is no getting lost. There's only one road, straight down all the way.

Rapid Penang goes there, by the way. Hop onto T308 if you want to go there by bus.


Technically speaking, as soon as you are onto the right road, the beach starts to your left, a whole stretch of it all the way till you reach the Chinese fishing village at the end of the road.

All along the road, you will see cars sporadically parked at the roadside, the occupants somewhere down there at the beach. Feel free to do so yourself at any point along the road.

As for us, we - or rather my wife - were there primarily to see the idyllic fishing village of her imagination. So, we drove all the way to the end without a single stop.


And, she was not disappointed.

There is only one main road, with a nice roundabout thingy at the end for turning back. On your left, blue sky, wide open sea (with a tiny, cute little island somewhere out there) and sandy white beaches; and on your right, clean, well-kept compounds of village houses with the old world feel about them.

Idyllic is the word.


You could practically go down to the beach at any point, but we found this:

A sight-seeing pier made for wide-eyed tourists like us! How thoughtful.

The beach is probably not as free from debris as we had hoped, but at least, those were mostly natural debris, like twigs, leaves, etc. I think most tourists aren't aware of this place yet. (So keep the knowledge of this place to yourself; tell it only to those who are eco-conscious.)


"Ah, the Lover's Pier," my wife said.

"How do you know?"

"I don't. I just thought it should be called that."

Hopeless romantic.


Our trip to Gertak Sanggul turned out to be more than just a visit to the seaside; but, more about that some other time.

A Pig Calling Another Swine a Fat Hog

It seems that lately I had been preoccupied with posting about either pigs or fatness, so let's continue along that line for just one more post.

Now, what you see here is a snapshot of something I drew on the whiteboard of a colleague's cubicle, as a reminder of a picture message that I sent him a few years back.

Back then, I drew the picture message - minus the "Zzzzz" - using the drawing tool in the Nokia 3315 (no small feat, that!) which belonged to my wife (I myself was using the Nokia 3310, which did not come with the drawing tool).

Now, why would I send such a picture message to this friend?

Well, at that time, this friend of mine weighed in at 120+ kg, and he was suffering from not one but THREE slipped discs in his lower back. No amount of physiotherapy would be of help to him, so the last resort was to go under the knife.

So I sent him the picture message after the surgery, when he was recuperating at home. :-)

And the worst part was that even if he had had the sense of humor to laugh at himself when he saw this picture message, he couldn't possibly do that, because that would have badly strained his lower back. How wicked I was...

(Well, with a friend like me, who needs enemy, eh?)


Anyway, the joke on myself is that this friend currently weighs slightly below 100 kg, as a result of a weight-loss regime ordered by the doctor. So, I am currently the fattest bloke in the office, at 115 kg. :-(


For another pig joke, visit this link. May it serve as a warning to all would-be parents out there.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Tragedy of the Number "48"

As I commented in my friend's blog, for the past 7 or 8 years, I have been buying clothes only from Kamdar (usually the one in BJ Complex). They have this brand of cotton trousers, Icon, that featured my size (currently 48").

But on a recent visit there, I was dismayed to find that the biggest size in that range is now only 46", instead of 56", which it once had. And the only two colors with size 46" were dark blue (eeww... like factory pants) and biege (which I already have 3 pairs).

Anyway, the pair that I had on that day was actually originally 44" in size, but it "grew" with me (that's what I like about 100% cotton pants, apart from its durability, light-weight and breathability), so I decided to try out a few pairs that were 44" in size (hopefully, they will stretch to my size after some time).

The color that I really wanted to get was this - kind of teak brown (it looks different in the picture though):

But it was a very tight squeeze. I felt like a bak-chang (glutinous rice dumpling with pork). Notice how it hugs to my thighs, and makes my hip looks comparatively wider. What a disappointment...

By the way, before you get the wrong idea: I only took the pictures as comparison, to help decide which pair(s) to buy. I'm not some camera-wielding fitting-room pervert.

Then I tried on the dark brown pair - I didn't want to get another pair of dark brown, but I would have to if it was the best choice among the worst:

Same size with the previous pair - 44" - but notice that the cutting is slightly more generous in this pair.

Then finally, my second choice in color: greenish/bluish gray (I think it goes well with that blue shirt I had on at that time).

Therein lies the mystery of the Icon trousers: the same size again, 44", but this one has the most generous cutting.

Well, what can I say...

So I bought the greenish-bluish gray pair.


I am not a jeans guy... but on that same day, I saw a pair of tan-colored jeans, and I fell in love with the color (not the jeans; I consider jeans to be too heavy for comfort). I would have bought it for the sake of the color, but I couldn't find my size. :-(

But, no, it wasn't because the jeans were too small...

The only size available in that color is 50", so, unless I grow another two inches around my girth, I don't qualify to wear them. =.=


In the same day, I was twice disappointed by trousers size: first, I was too big (the Icon trousers max out at 46"), and then I was too small (those tan-colored jeans only come in 50"). I mean, what's wrong with being 48"? T.T

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dumbo: Gourmet Extraordinaire - #2: Tiger biting Pig

I was sauntering along Carnarvon Street waiting for my wife to finish shopping for books, and I came across an eatery (I shall reveal the name later), whose branch in Bayan Baru I had patronized before, so I decided to have a bite of something there.

I had always wondered about a breakfast dish that they regularly feature, called, literally, "tiger biting pig" (虎咬猪). When I first saw this entry on the menu, the image that jumped into my mind was as shown below:

Poor piggy.

By the way, I drew the image using GIMP Portable. It is packed with quite a lot of features, considering that it is a free software.

Anyway, I only go to their Bayan Baru branch for lunch, so I never had the occasion to try this suggestively-named delicacy...

But there I was, in Carnarvon Street, and the time was around 10.30am (they serve breakfast till 11am), and I was feeling like having something heartier than that bowl of Hokkien Mee I had earlier for the first breakfast. Now, time for the second breakfast (yeah, Samwise Gamgee is one of my favorite heroes of all time).

So I sat down and ordered the "Tiger biting Pig", along with a cup of soy milk.

When the thing came, I couldn't help but laughed at my fanciful imagination prior to that moment of revelation. Here's what the dish looks like:

Yeap, a piece of stewed pork (plus some pickled lettuce or something) served in mantou (Chinese steamed bun).

Anyway, to be fair, it tasted good. I mean, I've always loved pork stew, so, that is totally up my alley. And although I don't really like pickles, in this dish, the slightly sour pickles actually served to offset the oiliness of the pork stew and made the thing enjoyable to the last bite.

Hmm. That would make me the human who was biting the tiger that was biting the pig...

Or, if you consider the fact that I was born in the year of the Tiger, it would be the human born in the tiger year biting the tiger that was biting the pig...

That's too complicated. >.<

By and by the way, that eatery was Mommy Wang's. They deliver lunch from 11am to 3pm. For RM5, you get rice, a main dish (chicken, pork, etc.), half a stewed egg, and three vegetable side dishes. And if your total order is below RM50, they charge an additional 5% for delivery. Quite reasonable IMHO. But I forgot their phone numbers... =.=

Oh, in case it wasn't obvious: the place is extremely non-halal, of course. ;-p

Dumbo: Gourmet Extraordinaire - #1: The Sad State of KR Roasters

Today, I decided that in this blog, Dumbo will also play the part of a gourmet extraordinaire, and enjoy the fun of criticizing other people's cooking. :-D

The first thing that shall come under my knife - literally in both senses - is Kenny Roger's Roasters. Pictured below is the roasted lamb that I had the other day.

Now, before I continue, I must say that I loved KR Roasters (note the past tense). I mean, it was the place where my girlfriend (now wife) and I had many dates in those innocent days. I loved (again, note the past tense) the roasted chicken, I loved the garden pasta salad, I loved the mashed potato, and above all, I loved (ditto) the muffin. O! The muffin! I should even say, it was the muffin. There was no other!

But, now, how low it has sunken!

Last month, a bunch of colleague and I went to the KR Roasters in Qb mall, and one of the colleagues - who is a fine cook and baker herself - ended up reprimanding the cook. And I would not blame her, for, on that occasion, we found the food to be of the sad states as described below:

1) The pasta in the garden pasta salad was practically raw (I mean, yeah, salad is supposed to be raw vegetables, but NOT the salad!), and soggy from being soaked in some broth or something;

2) Practically all the muffins were uncooked in the middle;

3) And the chicken was forgettable.

So we vowed never to return there for any more meals.

Then, I made the mistake of going to another KR Roasters last week - the one in BJC.

I tried their new roasted lamb, with - again - garden pasta salad, potato salad and savory rice. Well, what a disappointment I was in for! This time, I found:

1) First of all, they practically forgot that the lamb was roasting in the oven, and the poor thing spent a whole 20 minutes in the oven! It came to me slightly singed, and, of course, ghastly overcooked;

2) The gravy was VERY, very salty; the only other discernible taste is the black pepper;

3) Again! The pasta! Uncooked and soggy!

4) And the savory rice was far from being savory - it was almost tasteless;

5) Potato salad... well, it tasted like potato. Which says something about the dressing...

6) And the muffin was on the verge of being slightly undercooked... it was edible, but I missed the fluffiness that it used to boast.

Come on! KR Roasters! Shape up! Clean up your acts!

I mean, don't hire just anybody as your cook! Get someone who is really qualified! Get someone who knows how to bake! Get someone who knows how to cook pasta! Get a REAL cook!

Hire all those school-leavers all you want, but don't let them in the kitchen! (except for mopping the kitchen floor and doing the dishes, that is.)

I long to fall in love with KR Roasters again... *sigh*

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dumbo's Motivational Wallpapers: Part 3

Today, while traveling along Greenlane, I noticed the official residences of the High Court Justice and the Southwest District D.O.; the compounds of both mansions were spick-and-span.

Then, just another one or two kilometers down the road, I came along the Penang Home for the Infirm and Aged. The grass in the field has overgrown.

And I became very sad.

I don't know much about government business, but I believe the maintenance costs of the compounds of the former two mansions must be coming from government coffer (they are, after all, "official residences" of high-ranking government officials).

But I'm sure the High Court Justice and the D.O. can well afford their own gardeners. So why doesn't the government pay for the basic upkeeps of such welfare places as the Penang Home, and let the high-ranking government officials pay for the maintenance of their own homes? After all, who is the poor and needy in this case?

An Elephant in a China Shop

Today, I changed the caption under the title of this blog to:

"An elephant in a china shop is an over-cautious elephant. There are so many beautiful things around him, and he knows that he is clumsy, so he has always moved through life a wee bit too gingerly, to a point where it seems he is afraid even to live to the fullest. Well, that, hopefully, is going to change soon."

Honestly, when I chose "An Elephant in a China Shop" as the title of my blog, I had no idea why I did that. All that talk about "writing a post about what an elephant is doing is a china shop" was just a bunch of nonsense I wrote at that time for not knowing what else to write.

But today, it suddenly dawned on me that, indeed, I had thus far been an elephant in a china shop: a clumsy being, surrounded by so many delicate things (past achievements, present possessions, etc.), he is afraid to venture forth again, fearing that he would destroy those beautiful temporal things surrounding him.

Well, that, hopefully, is going to change.

Yes, it is going to change.


But first, I need to buy another desk for all the things I am going to do...

Dumbo's Motivational Wallpapers: Part 2

My lazy nature is showing... it's been more than ten days since I wrote in this blog.

So, here, I'm using this Dumbo's Motivational Wallpaper to motivate myself to write more in this blog.

"Make yourself heard!"

Never mind that it's just a bunch of nonsense!

Never mind that you make a jerk out of yourself!

Be loud and obnoxious rather than be forgotten!

Hear me!!!


I think I'm kind of cut out to be a politician, eh? ;-p

Sunday, April 6, 2008

My "Happily Ever After"

This is another comic strip loosely inspired by another poem, 天窗 (skylight), by 郑愁予.

It might worth noting that the strip contains the only complete Chinese poem that I wrote, which was especially written as the vehicle of this story. I've written a dozen English poems to date (one of which has been shared in this blog), which is a curious fact because Chinese is my first language, and the one that I think I can safely say I am better at.


(Note: to read the strip, start from top right, go from right to left; please open it in a separate window or tab to read the inlaid texts more clearly.)

The three lines of verses that open the strip in the top right corner, which I borrowed from "skylight", are roughly translated as below:

Ever since I had the skylight installed
it is like stripping away the frost that covered my body
I am the spring in the northern land that cannot be contained

And the story goes like this:

Panel 1:
"Boring years,
are like gray uniforms that are daily laundered..."

Panel 2:
No, I should change that to "days"...
"Boring days,
are like gray uniforms that are daily laundered..."

Panel 3:
"... gray uniforms... in the closet..."
No... "are circulated in and out of the half-opened closet..."

Panel 4:
"... circulated..."
Circulated, then what?
Ah, I've got it...
"circulating in and out... washed by the ever-flowing time... aging, fading..."

Panel 5:

Panel 6:
(Young lady) "You have been pacing up and down in front of my house the whole morning, what is your malintent?"

Panel 7:
(Young man) "That hurts! What did you do that for?"

Panel 8:
(Young man) "I was just working out a poem! I wasn't even bothering you!"

Panel 9:
(Young lady) "You were writing a poem?"

Panel 10:
(Young lady) "Hahaha... haha... hahahahaha.... you? A poet? ... hahahaha... hahaha..."

Panel 11:

Panel 12:
Boring days
are like gray uniforms that are daily laundered
circulating in and out of the half-opened closet
helplessly washed by the ever-flowing time;
Before it grows old and fade
pin a flower to its lapel...

The days of the gray uniform with a flower on its lapel
are like the daily laundered
gray uniforms with flowers on their lapels
in the half-opened closet
washed by the ever-flowing time;
Who cares if it fades?
As long as we are happy...

(Old man) "Poached eggs in clear soup again?"
(His wife) "Isn't it your favorite? You even wrote a poem about it..."


That, to me, is happily ever after. :-)