Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Diners find their bill hard to stomach

A COUPLE of weeks ago, an amusing incident caught my attention as I was having breakfast near home.

A man who appeared affluent enough to afford a much more lavish fare was haggling with the Indian Muslim stall owner over the price of the roti cheese bawang.

He was billed RM2.80 and he had refused to pay. The young man, who had arrived in a seven-series BMW as I was just alighting from my old jalopy moments earlier, wanted the proprietor to justify how the roti cheese bawang was priced.

The conversation went something like this:

"How much is roti cheese?" he asked.

"RM2.40," replied the proprietor.

"How much is roti cheese bawang?"


"Why so expensive?"

"Because we need to pay for bawang!"

"How much do you charge for bawang?"

"Forty sen."

"But you only gave me a slice!"

"Bawang is not cheap."

"How much is a kilogramme of bawang?"

By then a queue had formed and the proprietor was getting edgy as seven pairs of eyes were trained on him.

The young man took no notice of the impatience building up among the diners and continued to grill the proprietor.

When the eighth person joined the queue, the proprietor grudgingly agreed to accept RM2.60 from the young man so as not to create a scene.

The young man walked away happy.

He was lucky, compared to another chap's ordeal at a restaurant located at the foothills of a highland resort.

He had apparently gone to a popular restaurant and ordered a meal which included a steamed "sultan fish" -- also known as ikan jelawat or Chinese carp as we anglers call it.

When the bill came, his eyes must have almost popped out like the steamed fish's.

The bill was over RM500 and the most expensive dish turned out to be the 1.4kg fish priced at RM320 per kg.

And there was little the diner could do except pay the bill after failing to ask the price of the steamed fish prior to ordering.

I suppose he could take it to the Consumer Claims Tribunal and see if he had a case against the restaurant -- if he is still hungry for justice.

Learning about his plight, I know now that I have to not only give my bills more than a cursory glance but also make it a point to ask the prices of food before I order, just in case.

Of course, by doing so, I would look like a real cheapskate to other diners, but at least if there was something fishy going on, I would not swallow it hook, line and sinker.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Caring neighbours can help boost home security

A FRIEND who used to thumb his nose at “pigeon-hole dwellers” like me for being saddled with perpetual monthly maintenance fee, was forced to eat humble pie recently. When I visited him a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to see the security outpost at the entrance to his neighbourhood.

Seated behind a small desk under a bright hawker’s umbrella was a lone foreign-looking guard who was catching forty winks when the sound of my car’s engine woke him up.

Instead of being curious and flagging me down, he just smiled and waved me through as if he had known me for ages. Although I was not surprised, having seen one too many untrained guards, I was concerned. So, I asked my friend about the new security feature. He said one break-in too many had made his affluent neighbours jittery.

They decided to engage a security firm to watch over the neighbourhood so that everyone could sleep easy at night or spend the day working without worrying about coming home to a burglarised house.

In return for the peace of mind, each household would have to fork out RM50 monthly for the security service. My friend was tasked with fee collection. Although the move had the support of the majority, my friend faced the same problem as many of us at our condominium. Freeloaders are a dime a dozen and there are those who refuse to pay the nominal fee and give all kinds of excuses.

Those tasked with fee collection, such as my friend, now have a new worry to keep them up at night — how to persuade freeloaders to pay so that everyone can enjoy the peace.

According to my friend, his neighbourhood’s gated community concept may end up being scrapped if the generosity of those who have been faithfully paying runs out.

My friend was wondering if legal action could be taken against the freeloaders. based on the tacit contract formed when the idea of a gated community was hatched. I told him that if he wanted another worry to keep him up at night, he could pursue the matter.

As a condo dweller for over a decade, I have come to realise that even the laws governing mandatory payment of maintenance fees have failed to make freeloaders toe the line — not unless someone can come up with a foolproof way to collect the money owed, the way the tax department collects its dues.

Communities aspiring to live within a gated enclave will do well to consider other alternatives, especially if their neighbourhood is not planned as a gated community right from the start. Apart from having to contend with the freeloaders, they may also incur the wrath of regular users of the public roads they now barricade.

If they do not run foul of the law first, they are also likely to put their lives in danger in an emergency because rescue vehicles will have a tough time will not be able to going through the oil drum barriers.

I think if neighbours start talking to each other more, learn to care and watch out for each other when either one is away, maybe they may not need gated neighbourhoods.

We did it in the ’70s and we called it Rukun Tetangga.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stay connected but don't lose touch with real world

I BOUGHT a netbook and upgraded my 512K broadband service from a 44-hour per month subscription to an unlimited one last week.

The netbook was necessary because my sixyear- old desktop was beginning to show signs of age.

Before it dies on me and takes my writings with it, I got a new one at the recent PC fair.

The broadband upgrade was purely economic sensibility.

My teenage daughters will be accessing the Internet more for their schoolwork when they go to Forms Three and Five next year.

It is cheaper, in the long run, to opt for an unlimited browsing package.

Hopefully, with the subscription, I will able to wire upmy home with a Web-based security system that I can access anywhere using my mobile phone — something I had wanted to do since the webcam was invented.

While I have always marvelled at the wonders of the Internet, I would have never taken the need to stay connected 24/7 seriously if it had not been part of my job requirement once.

I would be happier with a Moleskine in hand on my days off.

Take a look around.

Have you no - ticed that we are slowly but surely becoming a city of people who cannot be without our netbooks, laptops and handphones, who have to stay connected to the Internet? While on the move, some of us are busy tapping away at our mobile devices.

Even at the dinner table among family and friends, conversations never cease to be interrupted by incoming SMSes or the checking of social network updates.

Owning more than one phone is now a status symbol.

With free Wi-Fi available citywide and ever cheaper Internet browsing devices, how many of us would be hopelessly attached to the devices if not for our restraint? Sometime ago, my daughter’s teacher found out that I had not taught my children how to blog.

“Start immediately,” she said.

“The Internet is the future and online is the way to stay updated and informed.

” I told her I did not encourage my children to do what their peers do on the Internet because I had always felt there was more to life than cruising the Internet superhighway.

What is the point of staying connected on cy - berspace but out of touch with the real world? These days, you can send audio emails or speak face-to-face with loved ones and friends on your laptop or video phone.

You can index their addresses and input the locations in your handphone, netbook, global positioning system (GPS) receivers or even mark them in your Google maps account so that technology can help you get there in a jiffy.

But pray tell,what good will all that do if you do not pay them a visit, shake their hands and say hello, and find out how they are getting on in their lives?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Going to the movies, now and then

WATCHED 2012 yet? I thought I’d wait a while till the novelty wears off and the crowd has thinned out a bit.

Back in the early ’80s, going to the movies was the highlight of the week for most people I knew.

Tickets, depending on the quality of the cinema and the movies screened, were priced between RM1 and RM4.50.

Regular shows cost as little as 65 sen in cinemas on the outskirts.

There were also students’ matinee and “adult” movies but you had to be in school uniform to watch the former and above 18 to watch the latter.

Even if you could slip by the burly guards at the entrance, the ushers patrolling the aisles would catch you.

At the Alhambra, the pride of the people in Setapak and its vicinity until it was demolished in the 1980s, front row seats cost only 45 sen and those near the projection window slightly over a ringgit.

On Fridays and weekend nights, it was packed with moviegoers and touts out to make a fast buck from those too lazy to queue.

A post-movie neck sprain was almost a certainty if you insisted on the wooden front row seats.

Unless you had indifferent nostrils, the stench of mothballs emanating from the toilet, a spit’s distance away, would be forever etched in your memory — if it didn’t make you vomit first.

Bigger cinemas like the Federal, Rex, Cathay and Pavilion had better seating arrangements.

Some even had velvety gallery seats upstairs which were priced about twice as much as the regular ones downstairs.

In the days, when munching kuaci (melon seeds) was in vogue, regular moviegoers instinctively knew not to sit directly below the gallery’s edge.

Of course, kuaciwas not much of a problem compared with spent chewing gum stuck on the armrests, s e at s or floor.

But if you had sat on one, chances are that youwould also have learnt how to get the sticky mess off and save your new Amco jeans.

In the days when smoking was the norm, a movie outing was a smelly experience just as a trip to the pubs is today.

It took a hot bath and lots of Lux soap to get the lingering nicotine smell off your hair and skin.

In badlymaintained cinemas, leaky roofs and rodents made moviegoing a memorable exper ience.

When the arrival of the Betamax videocassette tape, and later VCDs, drew the curtains on many of the poorly-kept cinemas, most people thought it spelt the end of moviegoing.

However, the cinemas returned as cineplexes, which are cleaner, have better seats and improved audiovisual systems.

Some of the toilets, stench-free and far away, even smell better than the air in the cinema itself.

The phone reservation system has also, thankfully, put the touts out of business.

Although they do not sell Eagle brand kuaci these days, you can still stuff yourself silly with popcorn, hamburgers and fizzy drinks.

The price of going to a movie is not lower but at least you don’t have to worry about rats or spent gums sticking to your bottom.

But of course, themovie industry is still under threat — not only from night market traders but also from cyberspace torrent downloads and portable media players.