Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Stroll Through a Durian Orchard

This past (is it "past" yet? It sure feels very "past") season, Penang had a very lean durian harvest.

I currently reside in a place in Penang renowned for its durian, Balik Pulau (well, I don't really reside IN Balik Pulau, per se, but according to my address, the small remote fishing village I now live in belongs to the Balik Pulau precinct), and, well, the saying is true: you won't appreciate something until it's gone.

Well, not gone, exactly, in this case. It's just that there will be a few more month's wait for the next season.


Last year, from I think around June to August, there were so many durians being sold here and there and everywhere, I hardly really looked at them (we only bought it once, during the three long months of abundant durian harvest).

This year, it seemed that with just a blink of an eye, the so-called durian season is suddenly over. Gone. Not a single durian to be seen anywhere anymore.

How sad. Just when I suddenly have this maddening craving for it.


Some weeks ago, I had a chance to take a stroll in a durian orchard near our village, and I took some photos, as you can see below. It was supposed to be the durian season then, but as you can see from the photos, hardly any spiky pungent king of fruits hanging from the branches.

The sceneries were beautiful, though. And although it was almost noon, it was still very cool under those wonderful canopies.

In case you were wondering: NO, I didn't take the stroll in the orchard with the intention to pick some FREE durians. =.= Our pastor and I were visiting one of our sisters in Christ, and her husband took us to visit the pallet-making workshop he works in. The workshop sits smack in the middle of the orchard because the owner is the brother of the orchard owner. Besides, the trail is also frequently used by the villagers for trekking.

Still, despite the scenery and cool ambience, I haven't been there since for a second stroll, because, after all, no matter how lean the durian harvest may be, there is still no guarantee that you won't have a falling one land on your head...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dumbo: Back with a Vengeance

Not against anyone in particular, of course.


This blog experienced a two-week hiatus, partly due to my busy schedule, and partly due to my picking up the reading habit again.
During the past two weeks, I read two Agatha Christie books ("One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" and "Five Little Pigs") and one Frederick Forsyth ("Icon").

In the past few months, I have been re-discovering Agatha Christie's works, through the collection (not complete though) of her works at the Seberang Jaya public library. "Re-discovery" because I have already read some - quite a number, actually - of her works when I was in secondary school. In retrospect, I now realize that at that time, I did not quite understand 100% what she wrote; after all, I had very little understanding of the British society and its culture then, therefore, many things did not make sense to me at that time.

Now, re-reading her works, I could not help but agree with the critics: she is - still is - indeed the "Queen of Crime".

I mean, to be sure, there have since been other writers who have come up with cleverer plots; but I still love Christie most for her profound portrayal of the human nature.


I have always loved detective stories. I started reading Sherlock Holmes when I was in primary school, and for a time, I was enthralled by such Japanese masters of mysteries as "Matsumoto Seichō (松本清张)", "Morimura Seiichi (森村诚一)" "Natsuki Shizuko (夏树静子)", Akagawa Jirō (赤川次郎)", etc.

You must think me very psychotic, to be so obsessed with stories about people getting murdered.

However, you cannot deny that, if you are studying criminology, one thing you have to learn is to think like a criminal, as one popular saying goes, "to catch a criminal, you have to think like one".

Yet, that is not why I am fascinated by detective stories. On top of all those incredibly clever plots, what captivates me most, as mentioned earlier, is the portrayal of human nature, about both its triumph and its failings.

Now, of course, if you wish to read about how sinful the human nature is, you do not really have to read detective fictions. Just open up the Bible, or go read today's newspaper. But if you wish to have a quick dose of "good triumphing over evil", well, according to the Good Book, it's a life-long battle, with ultimate victory only at the End, on Judgment Day, and according to the newspaper, the police are still looking for clues - and will forever still be looking for clues; it is only in fictions (detective ones especially) that you will be assured of a good-triumphing-over-evil ending after only a few hundred pages (a few days of reading, maybe).

In that sense, I'm now particularly fond of Christie's detective stories because she has this particular philosophy about crime-solving that I totally agree with: that more important than proving who is the criminal, is proving who is not the criminal.

In a case of murder, there will bound to be more than one suspect. Among those suspected, there will only be one murderer (or, sometimes, a murderer with one or more accomplices), but all the same, every suspect will be eyed with suspicion by the society: "look at him/her; looking o-so-innocent; but he/she might really be a cold-blooded killer!" Life is not any easier for the family of the suspects either. The husband/wife of a suspect may constantly wonder, "am I sleeping with a murderer/murderess?"

"Innocent until proven guilty" is a myth. No one can truly claim to believe in that. We are always prejudiced by the fact that someone is suspected for a reason (presence of motive and opportunity). Therefore, finding the real culprit as fast as possible is imperative, and that is why I find Christie's detectives (Hercule Poirot, Ms. Marple, etc.) so endearing.


Presently, I have finished reading all the novels I have with me. So, before I go to the library again (and there is no telling when that would be, being at the mercy of my unpredictable work schedule), I shall have to endure some days without the comforting embrace of the fictitious world.

At the meantime, I will catch up with several long-delayed posts for this blog. Watch out: Dumbo is back with a vengeance!

Monday, May 12, 2008


The owner of the two nature photographs I used (with permission) in the previous post recently changed his portrait on his blog.

As before, he covered part of his face, but whereas in the previous portrait, only one of his eyes was visible, for the new portrait, he only covered his face below the eyes. I think those eyes are smiling, but I'm not sure.

To pull his leg, I SMSed him, "... your new headshot in your blog is a bit scary."

He replied, "... what do you mean my picture in blog is scary =.="

I said, "Like, sexual pervert?" :-p


I don't have his picture to show you what he actually looks like, apart from those eyes (and that prominent forehead), but a long time ago, when we were colleagues in a college (not where he is teaching now), I drew a caricature of him using MS Paintbrush (only possible if you have one of those old roller-ball mouses with very, very heavy roller ball). Although I lost that file after I left that college, I have - just now, after hitting a snag in a translation job I was doing - reproduced that caricature in pencil (maybe not exactly the same; at least the sword and T-shirt are different), as shown below:
Maybe sending him this as a "peace offering" will make him forget that I pulled his leg, and give up coming after me with a katana. ;-p

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Words and Images

A friend posted in his blog a couple of pictures taken in his hometown, as shown below.

At first glance, what springs into your mind? :-)


For the first picture, the following verses came to my mind (slightly modified compared to what you would see in the comment of the said post in my friend's blog):

I had a sweet, peaceful dream
of blue sky reflected in quiet stream
broken free from the cold glass panes
of skyscrapers crowding city lanes

It flew over the vast green land
stretching its pale blue expanse
and I could hear it sing--
a song carried on warm breeze's wings

I entitled it "Sky". Having seen too many reflections of blue sky on the glass panes of cold, lifeless skyscrapers, it was a delight to see the blue sky reflected on something more natural: in this case, a small canal (OK, it's kind of man-made, too; but at least it blends in well with nature, and it can become a part of nature again). Therefore, the blue sky became in my mind a living thing, once caged, now free.


The second picture evoked in me a haiku, which I named "Country Lane":

Lead me where you will
lead me to your land of dreams
a home - a smile - peace--

But for this, try not to over-analyze my sentiment behind it, OK? ;-)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dumbo: Gourmet Extraordinaire - #4: Corns

Good food does not tempt my wife. Generally. But there are exceptions.

For one thing, she's absolutely crazy about corns. Steamed, juicy, lightly salted corns.


Now, there are corns, and there are corns. How many types of corn have you tasted?

For me, three.

First of all, there are the regular ones selling for about RM1.00 each, which you can easily find at Pasar Malam, along the roadside, or even outside supermarkets. And they taste like, well, what corns should taste like.


Then there is the "Pearl Corn" (珍珠玉米) variety, which costs about RM3.00 each, as shown in the picture below:

You won't know how juicy and sweet corns can be until you have tasted this variety. No additional flavoring needed.

It is worth every single cent of its seemingly exorbitant price tag.


Finally, there's the "sweet glutinous corn" (甜糯玉米) variety, with a purple color so dark, it is almost black.

And by the way, my wife has another weakness when it comes to food: she goes for the looks, not the tastes.

And the exotic-looking purplish black corn was totally up the alley, never mind that each one costs RM4.65 where we found it (a hypermarket).

We bought only one, because I wasn't convinced by its look. And a word in the name worried me a little: "glutinous". Huh? Glutinous corn?

So, we steamed the funny little farm produce. It seems such a simple statement, but well, we steamed it for a very long time.

And if you had been wondering - we were wondering, too - the little alien crop is black to its very core.

Then there was the tasting session.

My wife broke it into the two portions you can see here in this picture. But I wisely decided that I would take only a quarter of the thing, so I further broke the tip portion into two parts, and took the smaller part.

Well, you should see the expressions on our face when we took our first bite.

It is sticky (the name says "glutinous"! how could it be otherwise). It is dry. And it is almost tasteless.

I definitely know of better ways to spend RM4.65.

For one thing, if you add another RM1.35, you can get TWO pearl corns.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Dumbo: Gourmet Extraordinaire - #3: Huttese Pizzas

All right, so I lied in the title. This post is not about pizzas eaten (or made) by the Hutts. Sue me. As you can probably see from the logos on the plates, this picture was taken at a Pizza Hut outlet (which one? I'll tell you later).

Fast-food pizzas. Ah. Who can live without them?

OK. Actually, we all can live without it.

Anyway, I've always loathed going to McDonald's. Sure enough, I actually like their sundaes. But the rest are forgettable. And don't even get me started on their pathetic attempts at fried chicken. IMHO, KFC still makes the most kick-ass fried chickens, as far as fast-food restaurants go. Period.

But these days, even KFC is also becoming loathsome to me. I mean, well, I'm growing old, and, inevitably, fried things are slowly moving down the list of my favorite foods. So, these days, whenever I have a fancy for some unhealthy fast-food, Pizza Hut is among my top choices.

This past Labor Day (1st May), my wife and I went to a Pizza Hut restaurant in Bandar Baru Ayer Itam (to locals, the area is simply known as "Farlim", the company that developed most of the housing projects there).

We ordered a combo set that came with a regular pizza, 4 pieces of cheese sticks, 2 bowls of mushroom soup, 2 glasses of Pepsi. I ordered an additional garlic bread (I fell in love with their garlic bread ever since the first time I ate at a Pizza Hut), and for the pizza, I chose the "Thai Seafood" topping.

Ah. Thai Seafood.

To me, that is Pizza Hut's best pizza topping. Forget that it is actually not so much "Thai" as "pretending to be Thai". IMHO, it is a blend of spicy and slightly sour taste most perfect for a pizza. Very appetizing. I can finish a whole regular pizza with this topping without getting tired of the taste. It used to come with cilantro (coriander) leaves, which made it even more heavenly yummy. Unfortunately, that has been taken out of the recipe, because very few people can stand the taste of cilantro. :-(

Speaking about cilantro, the next time you eat Hainanese (Hailam) Chicken Rice, chop up some cilantro and mix it in with the chili sauce. It will make you fall in love with Hainanese Chicken Rice all over again. Cilantro also goes very well with Thai chili sauce. In fact, I believe cilantro will go very well with most things Thai. Especially if the recipe has a Teochew (Chaozhou) origin. Cilantro is a favorite ingredient for the Teochews.

But I have sidetracked. Back to Pizza Hut.

To me, the top three Pizza Hut toppings are:
1) Thai Seafood
2) Cool Lime Chicken (not sure if this is on the regular menu; it came with their "Sensasi" promotion)
3) Pepperoni

By the way, try the pepperoni topping on a crispy crust pizza. It is a pleasantly light fare perfect for an afternoon snack. But don't try the crispy crust if you have weak teeth.

What surprised us about that particular outlet in Farlim that day was how crispy and fluffy their normal pan pizza (not the above mentioned crispy variety) turned out to be. It was the first time we actually enjoyed eating the crust.


Now, one more thing you should know about eating at a fast-food restaurant: always smile to the waiters/waitresses. Yes, even at the risk of incurring the wrath of your significant other.

That day, while eating our pizza and its various accompaniment, I idly directed my stare towards the counter where the foods were coming out (honestly, I wasn't really looking at anyone in particular; our eyes have the habit of finding moving objects to look at, and at that moment, the counter area was teeming with motions), and then I suddenly realized that a waitress was smiling politely at me because she thought I was looking at her. So I returned the smile.

Five minutes later, the said waitress came towards the general direction of the dining area with two plates of nachos and cheese dip in her serving tray, and when she turned her eyes to find me looking at her (again, my eyes were just following moving objects, honestly), I smiled at her again, and she smiled back. Then she veered towards our table and proceeded to set down a plate of nachos & cheese dip. "Uh, we didn't order that," I said.

"It's on the house, sir," she said.

Oh. "Thank you." I must have grinned from ear to ear. Nothing pleases a glutton more than free food.

This picture here was taken after we had eaten half of the nachos. The dip was very nice.

We realized later that not all the customers were served these free samples. In fact, those two plates were probably the only two plates that were given out at that particular moment.

So, again, the moral of the story: always smile to those who serve you.

I mean, I am not a handsome, attractive young guy. And I was obviously with someone who is not my sister. But that waitress had chosen to give us the free sample probably because she thought it more worthwhile to give it to a person who was friendly enough to smile at her. I mean, it is very probable that such a person will be more grateful for the free sample she was about to give, compared to that grumpy-looking guy at the next table.

So, smile to those who serve you. Unless, of course, you look like Jack Nicholson.

In any case, at least be friendly.


To further convince you about the need to be friendly to those who serve you food, here's an anecdote I heard from a restaurateur friend:

In a posh restaurant, a customer as grumpy as Grumpy called for the waiter.

"This steak is overdone. Ask your chef to make another."

The waiter duly conveyed the message, and although the chef did not quite agree with the customer's opinion, he made another steak, because, well, customers are always right, aren't they?

The new steak was served, but obviously it did not please the customer either, because the waiter was called again almost immediately.

"This one is too rare. What do I look like to you? A wild animal with fangs and claws? Ask your chef to make another."

The waiter was a bit apprehensive about how the chef would take it, but, fortunately, the chef was still able to contain his anger. Nevertheless, instead of making a fresh new steak, he simply reheated the one that the customer said was undercooked.

A short while after the reheated steak was served, the customer called for the waiter again.

"Now this is too hard! How am I supposed to eat this? Do I look like I have steel teeth? Ask your chef to make another!"

This time, the chef was furious, and he was starting to make a scene in the kitchen. So the manager came to find out what the problem was. After understanding the situation, the manager placed the steak on the kitchen counter, took off one of his hard-heeled leather shoes, and started to pound the steak with his shoe. In between bouts of pounding, he spat on the steak.

"Serve this," he then told the waiter.

So the waiter served the "specially treated" steak, feeling both happy (he was tempted to join the manager) and worried (would the customer notice?).

To his surprise, the nitpicking customer finished the steak, and left him this comment: "My compliments to the chef. The tastiest and most tender steak I've ever had."


Bon Appétit.