Monday, February 28, 2011

Fuming over shisha smoking ban

THE call for the ban of shisha smoking at eateries did not go down well with a group of smokers at an Arab outdoor restaurant in the city where I was dining out with my family last Thursday.

Apparently, the group of local shisha smokers was fuming over the report in the New Straits Times they had read earlier that day.

The Malaysian Medical Association had called for the ban of the tobacco-molasses pipe following the Kota Baru Municipal Council's decision to stop shisha smoking in eateries.

We were finishing our drinks after dinner when the group arrived. They took a table next to ours and promptly ordered a shisha pipe to be shared.

Because I was not too fond of smoke when dining, I took a table far away from diners who were there to smoke the pipes.

But when the group arrived, I had the pleasure of listening to their side of the story. The youths, three young men and a woman in their 20s, were loudly expressing their displeasure between shared puffs of the shisha pipe.

One of them said that shisha smoking was not harmful, and concluded that it was no worse than cigarette, cigar or pipe smoking.

A girl in the group chided the MMA for not minding its own business and infringing on the right of shisha smokers to smoke.

I did not know what shisha smoking was until that evening's eye-opener. As I watched the waiters topping up the hot coal onto a receptacle on top of the shisha pipe, and smelling the sweet scent of the second-hand smoke, I realised why many non-smokers who hated cigarette smoke did not mind shisha's.

It did not smell as bad as burnt tobacco, a clove cigarette, or cheap cheroot.

But I wonder if shisha smoking is not as harmful as smoking cigarettes.

Never mind if the smoke is less smelly but tobacco is still tobacco, and burnt tobacco produces nicotine.

And what about the coal used to heat up the shisha -- does the smoker not inhale some of the fumes from burning coal in the same breath?

That evening, I wondered if the eatery which provided such good Arab food would consider setting up a non-smoking area soon so that non-smokers like my family and I could enjoy their excellent cuisine without having to inhale second-hand smoke on the slipstream or struggle to see what were on the plates because of too much smoke.

Defenders of shisha smoking could say that the activity is attractive to tourists from the Middle-East.

Premises offering shisha smoking can certainly make these tourists feel at home -- just like the sight of nasi lemak to Malaysians in a foreign land.

But when I see more locals than Arabs tugging at the hoses of shisha pipes, I wonder if local smokers are merely doing it to look cool or a new smoking culture is being adopted.

As far as I know, our forefathers only smoked rokok daun (tobacco rolled in nipah palm leaves) but never shisha.

Monday, February 21, 2011

2011 shaping into good year for the fortune tellers

JUDGING by the amount of exposure soothsayers were given at the very beginning of this year, says an observer, horoscope reading must be getting back into vogue. Not only were the periodicals generous with their print space to feature fortunetellers and their predictions, the electronic media, too, has given much airtime. One television station featured horoscope reading as an hour-long programme on the eve of the New Year and repeated it the next day.

The days of sidewalk fortune tellers may be numbered in the age of computers, but certainly there is no shortage of demand for their services even among the most skeptical or highly educated. Given the right marketing push, the art of divination can be lucrative.

One soothsayer had came up with a series of books to predict what the Year of Rabbit held in as early as October last year. Whether or not the predictions are accurate, I have no way of knowing, but to judge by the dog-eared copies in dumper bins with big discount stickers now stuck on them, I can't help but wonder if the author could have foretold the outcome of the books.

Chinese or English horoscope, there is no shortage of believers - whether they read them out of obsession or curiosity. Some people I know will not buy a newspaper if the horoscope section is missing. No one noticed when once, some predictions became mixed up, a magazine copy editor told me. But when she left out a horoscope in one issue, the phones did not stop ringing.

Science or quackery, only the experienced can tell. Sometimes even the experts are stumped when the stars refused to cooperate and play havoc with predictions. The more sensible among my friends say that you should take readings with a grain of salt. Take the case of a colleague who turns 60 this year. The stars are said to be against him - and people born in the Year of the Rabbit. However, his fears proved unfounded when he struck lottery a fortnight ago.

Perhaps the best way to take horoscope readings, if you cannot accept them as novelty, is to use some common sense.

If you can get out of bed today, earn enough to feed and house yourself and your family, and sleep well without worries t onight, then it is a good day regardless of what soothsayers say.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rejoice in price-less celebrations

AVOIDED buying white pomfret (bawal tambak in Malay or tau tai cheong in Cantonese) this year although the price was cheaper than last year's at the pasar tani I had gone to.

My wife also decided to forgo banana prawns, the crustaceans sought after by the Chinese during the Lunar New Year for its auspicious significance. The giant prawns were so ridiculously priced, at RM80 per kilo a week before New Year's day, that I felt I could do without the prosperity dish if it meant making fishmongers prosperous first.

We avoided buying dried meat from a famous shop in the city centre - not only because the prices had gone up but the queue was painfully long.

Although the shop's dried meat was my daughter's favourite, we decided that standing for more than an hour in a queue is a price not worth paying for.

Ever counted how often we have allowed ourselves to be drawn into festive buying frenzies only to regret later that we had bought things we can ill-afford or don't need?

Through herd mentality, how often have we allowed ourselves be fooled by marketers playing on our emotional weaknesses and superstitious beliefs? Regardless of our religious inclination, educational background, or creed, gullibility gets the better of us sometimes.

Today, I am sure the hopeless romantic in us will be paying for roses through our noses. It is Valentine's Day, in case you have forgotten. And yes, another excuse to splurge. Never mind if the roses cost you an arm and a leg -- you can still hop into work the next day, hopefully.

Luckily, Valentine's Day does not fall on Chap Goh Meh. If it did, one city pub owner tells me, business might suffer if Chinese lovebirds chose to celebrate the Chinese version of the lover's day by flocking to bridges and throwing oranges into rivers instead of going to pubs and fine-dining restaurants.

We can point fingers at commercial brainwashing for all the hype that are burning holes in our pockets but I think we have only ourselves to blame for succumbing to price hikes during festive seasons.

In the case of Feb 14, which is a multi-million ringgit industry flooded with cards, presents, and flowers, we should perhaps allow heads to rule our hearts instead.

Isn't it ridiculous to associate the price of gifts or number of roses you receive or give away with the level of affection? Why show love and affection only on this day when it is perfectly all right to do so on any day of the year -- and with less strain on the pocket?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Don't get involved in this hare-raising experience

PEOPLE tell me that pet dealers are laughing all the way to the bank this Chinese New Year. Rabbit sales have outdone that of dogs or cats.
Although some restaurants have their reservations in serving rabbit meat, the enthusiasm for bunnies among those whose houses I visited is simply amazing.

I was also told that some had bought rabbits after some soothsayers claimed that it was auspicious to have a bunny in the house.

But if the path to prosperity is still not clear to you as you read this, and you are prompted to get a rabbit for your home before Chap Goh Meh, I think you should be aware of a report I read two weeks ago.

According to AFP, rabbit dealers from Thailand to China are doing brisk business but their road to prosperity has raised concerns among animal activists.

To discourage maltreatment of rabbits, a representative of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) organisation has reiterated that rabbits are high-maintenance animals that require significant resources, equipment, attention and veterinary care.

They are not, as your pet dealer will tell you, cute and easy-to-care-for pets that you can introduce to your children.

I agree totally. Having lived two doors away from a neighbour who reared rabbits for meat in the 1970s, I recall how much work went into rabbit keeping.

Rabbits dislike heat and dampness. You cannot hose them down during hot spells like you do a dog or they will catch a cold and die.

As commercial rabbit feed was not widely available, the rabbits were fed wheat grain and rabbit hay -- a type of long-node succulent grass found near waterways.

But you had to make sure the grass is completely dry before they are dropped into the pen. Wet feed would give the rabbits a skin disease and eventually kill them.

Rabbit pens were raised a metre or more off the ground.

They had mesh flooring to enable rabbit urine and droppings to fall through.

The pen had to be airy and the area beneath cleaned daily. A dirty surrounding breeds diseases; a fungal infection can wipe out an entire rabbit population in days.

Of course, for the commercially inclined, the amorous rabbit is a boon. Left to their own devices, a pair can bear you an army six months down the line. You will know how scary that can be if you have reared guppies.

Maintenance and labour costs would multiply unless you keep the males and females separated.

And if you are thinking of buying a rabbit as a pet companion, perhaps you should think again.

Unless you can take good care of the animals and not dump them into the woods, like most people do their unwanted dogs and cats in the city, the bunny may not be good company.

And I am sure the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will appreciate it if you do not get them involved in your hare-raising experience