Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Be diligent and make an effort to avert misfortunes

SO, how was your luck in the first week of the Year of the Tiger? Those who know how to read the stars tell me that the Year of the Golden Tiger, which some said dawned on Feb 4, would be one of mixed fortunes, depending on whether your zodiac sign is on the list of the big cat's prey species.

You could, by now, be reaping all that heaven owes you or you could be taking evasive measures to lessen the bad luck in store, keeping your fingers crossed that the stars will be kinder this year.

A friend was not too happy after a fortuneteller told him that this would be a trying year since he was born in the year of the monkey.

He had visited the fortuneteller to see if he had any marriage luck, only to be told otherwise.

Not only would this year be one of missed fortunes, but also misfortune for him if he was not careful.

However, he was advised not to worry as the effects of the ominous stars could be countered by wearing a special jade unicorn sold at the shop.

Since purchasing one would have meant tightening his belt for the next six months, he delayed the purchase.

But when he stepped on a cat's droppings on New Year's Day, he thought it could be a warning of the bad things to come and wondered if he should get the jade unicorn just in case.

I told him a glass look-alike found at some RM5 shops might just do the trick for a lot less although I warned him against wearing the object around his neck lest it attracts more than just laughter but snatch thieves as well.

I then shared the story of a poor chap living not far from our home many years ago. Just before a particular New Year, he had gone to see a fortuneteller to find out if his luck would change for the better.

The fortuneteller had told him that he would have fared better years earlier if not for the inauspicious location of the front door of his house.

He was advised to add another window to the house so that the winds of prosperity that had been passing him by could be directed within instead. So, a window was hastily built, just in time for the New Year celebration.

On the morning of the New Year, the neighbours were awakened by a commotion outside the house.

Instead of finding a pot of gold at his doorsteps, the poor man found that his new window was ajar.

His wife, who had not yet got used to the presence of the new window, had forgotten to lock it the night before. Someone had entered the house through it and made off with what little valuables they had.

I told my friend not to be too influenced by the readings for there is no misfortune that cannot be overcome with diligence and effort. Even the best fortunetellers have been proven wrong.

I reminded him of the year when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck and how those who had predicted in January that it would be a year of prosperity and free of major calamities were proven wrong on Boxing Day.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Households paying a high price for festive glitter

LAST week, when I visited my regular fishmonger in Taman Melawati and asked if he had local "bawal tambak" or giant white pomfret, ("tow tai cheong" in Cantonese), he said he did not sell them this year.

Even if I had wanted those from Thailand, he could not supply me with any.

The price of the fish had touched RM100 per kilogramme in the last two weeks of January and it would be crazy to eat it, he said.

I asked about the price not because I wanted to buy the fish but just to get a feel of how high the prices can be during the run-up to the Chinese New Year.

Each year, I wondered why people fussed over this fish.

One year, it cost so much that people were calling for the price to be capped.

It hit RM128 per kilogramme, if I was not mistaken, and that was the price if you buy it at the fish landing jetty in Sungai Besar.

Having eaten most types of fish from local waters, "bawal tambak" is just another fish to me.

White or black, the only value I attach to it is its freshness. If it is straight from the sea to the "kuali" (wok), then white or black is just fine.

But if it has been kept in the fridge for a week, then I would rather not have it grace my dinner table unless deep-fried or cooked in tomyam sauce so its state of freshness does not insult the tastebuds.

But when the price of "bawal tambak" peaks like that of roses on Valentine's Day, I wonder why everyone wants a bite - even those who could ill afford it. But it is not just about pomfrets.

The prices of giant sea prawns, waxed duck and mushrooms from China, barbecued meat, and limes, too, have risen.

Did you notice that the dragon lime, (a longer variety known as "loong kat" in Cantonese) has replaced the kumquat or common lime in importance in recent years?

Marketing hype and wordplay have put a ridiculous seasonal demand on this "prosperity" plant where the fruits fall faster than its post-festive prices.

This week, a pot of dragon lime plant, which is slightly more than a metre tall, is likely to cost the same as two weeks' supply of groceries for a small family as the buying craze hits the home stretch.

Soothsayers and traders will swear that it is auspicious to have pots bursting with dragon limes to bring an avalanche of good fortune to your doorsteps.

But of course, they never tell you that they are usually the ones who will reap the prosperity first.

This year, with the Chinese New Year Day falling on Feb 14, a stalk of rose will probably cost more than a bouquet of peonies at the florists although restaurant owners could stand to make less this year in Valentine's Day wedding dinners since most people would be away during the long break.

I could be wrong.

The Year of the Tiger could prove prosperous to restaurant operators and they could be laughing all the way to the bank instead.

It's no joke to be caught up in the buying frenzy during festivals.

Festive songs have a way of putting you in an extra generous mood to lavish yourself with luxuries you would normally not give a second thought to.

Sometimes you could dig too deep into your pockets just to keep up with Ah Fatt next door and find out too late that you have to tighten your belt twice as much once the festive glitter is all gone.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ain't too far off from being world-class city

IN 2000, while announcing the City Day celebrations, the then mayor Tan Sri Kamaruzzaman Shariff expressed his wish to see Kuala Lumpur become a world-class city.

He envisioned a city with international business and commercial networking, excellent telecommunications and transport system, high quality of living and which was a tourism hotspot.

Ten years down the line, I don't think we are very far off the mark. We cannot beat our chests and declare KL to be a world-class business hub yet but, judging by the number of foreign brands based here today, our efforts have not been in vain.

We do have a good telecommunications system even though we are not entirely hooked up via high speed broadband. But we can boast of having enough access points to say we are globally connected at least. Even some of our hawker stalls offer free Wi-Fi, if we want proof that we are modern enough. And, as for being a tourist centre, any non-Malaysians reading this and cannot associate the Twin Towers with Kuala Lumpur is best advised to do something else.

In terms of transport we are spoilt for choice, although some of us prefer our own two- or four-wheelers. But the big cars you see choking the streets should give you an idea of how much the standard of living has improved. Now we only need to work on improving the quality.

Only a few small things stand in the way of our being truly world-class. If we can get rid of the litterbugs, it would be slightly easier to see the path to get there, for instance. Even the river looked cleaner last week. Maybe more of us have finally learned to love our river and not because the modern garbage booms are doing a better job upstream.

We can't do anything about the muddy look. Then again, if the water is crystal clear, our tour guides might have a tough time explaining to tourists how the city got its name. Flash floods are hovering like dark clouds over the horizon but we can rest assured that the Smart Tunnel will come to our rescue if there are major floods.

The expressways get us in and out of the city in a flash although we sometimes find the exits choked with traffic and wonder if there is a double meaning to the word "toll". But I guess peak-hour jams are unavoidable unless our traffic dispersal system can be made smarter and traffic policemen need not risk their life and limb daily. One wonders if imposing a premium on vehicular traffic entering the city might do the trick.

We can take pride in the greenery around us as long as they are trees and not moss on abandoned buildings.

And, as for the few recreational parks that we do have, it would help if we do not mess them up with noisy garden parties and haphazardly parked cars, or leave a trail of rubbish to mark our picnic spots or use the trees to hold billboards.

It would appear that we may take a while to be world-class but, fingers crossed, we just might get there. And faster too if we seriously consider turning this into a fine city like the one across the Causeway. Otherwise, the only "worldly" features we can talk about are the foreign labour colonies found in Kota Raya, Chow Kit, Batu Road and Petaling Street.