Monday, February 27, 2012

Ire over drying laundry on balcony

FOREIGN WORKERS staying at a shop apartment near the Hentian Kajang complex, Kajang, have raised the ire of locals, according to a Malay daily recently.

The sight of clothes being hung out to dry along the balconies of these shop apartments is offensive to the locals and they want the authorities to do something about it.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when the Pekeliling Flats was occupied, I recall that the authorities had also tried to discourage residents from drying their clothes on poles from their balconies. The sight of clothes fluttering like flags in the wind were a cause for concern during times when international events were held in the city, such as the first Pacific Area Travel Association (Pata) in 1972 and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) a decade later.

When visiting friends who were staying at the flats those days, I was often reminded to watch out for the drizzle from above. I was advised to be especially careful when visiting the flats between 7am and 9am when the wet clothes were put out to dry.

For those staying at the Sulaiman Court (one of the earliest high-rise apartments in the city where the Sogo Complex now sits), clothes hanging from the balcony on poles or clotheslines was a common sight. The shops that lined the ground floor had awnings spanning the width of their five-foot-ways to keep their premises dry and their customers from being splashed by careless flat dwellers.

But in those days, life was less complicated and people were more tolerant of those living in high rises who had to dry clothes from their balconies. They generally understood, and sympathised with, the predicament of those who lacked proper places to dry their laundry.

Some people, of course, believe that it is suay (Hokkien for unlucky) to walk under a clothesline of wet laundry and be hit by dripping water, especially from drying undergarments. That can literally wash away one's luck, some people say.

Those who stayed in high rises back then also took it upon themselves not to put their underwear out to dry from their windows or the balconies. For many, it was an embarrassing act, if not rude, and those who insisted on doing so, often invited a scolding from the elders or ticking from the neighbours.

In Dubai, sometime ago, the local authorities, who were tired of people living in high rises drying their laundry from the balconies, tried imposing a fine on those caught red handed. It didn't work.

Here, the laws are more flexible, and local authorities kinder, I suppose. The reason why people dry their clothes on the balcony in high rises is because these homes are not built to let in enough sunlight to dry clothes.

Often, the laundry-drying areas are located next to the air wells. These places are airy enough to dry machine-washed clothes indoors but, sometimes, selfish neighbours can put a damper on your efforts, especially if they renovate their homes and seal up the air well.

For most people, drying clothes indoors is just not the same, even when using an electrical laundry dryer. Nothing imparts a fresh feel to your old pants, shirts, or blankets the way a few hours in the hot sun can.

Monday, February 20, 2012

You've got unsolicited mail...

ON the third day of the Chinese New Year, I received a text message from a political party leader of the area where I live, wishing me "Gong Xi Fa Cai".

In appreciation of the trouble he had taken, I promptly replied: "Thank you, boss."

I don't know him personally, hence the stock response I reserve for strangers or those whose identities I cannot figure out calling me on my mobile phone.

Usually, addressing someone as "boss", as I have seen others do many times, never fails to elicit a friendly response.

But the reason I replied was because the greeting came from a legitimate seven-digit mobile number, not the five-digit ones from insurance agents out to make a fast buck or a credit card agent trying to get you to sign up for another one.

My reply, however, did not evoke the usual "Thank you" or "Welcome" from the sender, which led me to wonder why he had bothered to send me a greeting but could not spare a few more sen on the SMS to acknowledge my "Thank you".

What troubled me more was the question of how the chap obtained my number.

Some years ago when owning mobile phones was the craze, I was extremely protective of my phone number.

I gave it out sparingly because I had learnt a few years earlier what giving out my email address without thinking could do to my inbox.

Even before the days of the Internet, I disliked unsolicited mail. In the 1980s, I remember, I had subscribed to a pocket-sized magazine that I will not name here out of professional courtesy.

Every two or three months, the people at the magazine would send me a brightly-coloured envelope that contained promises of my impending good fortune.

Days later, an even bigger envelope would arrive, containing a stack of colourful documents and an entry form that gave me a shot at winning RM250,000 - if I would only buy some home remedy books or encyclopedias.

After three years of receiving junk mail from that magazine company, despite having written numerous times begging them not to clutter my mailbox, I terminated my subscription.

Even now, I still receive mails from them, asking if I would renew my subscription.

I responded the same way to my one-time favourite petrol company years ago.

It started when I signed up for its loyalty card and I was required to give out my mobile phone number. I remember the incident well because it was the first time I had given my number to a commercial establishment.

Six months down the line, I started receiving not only offers and promotions via SMS to my phone, but also many good news that I had been shortlisted to win big sums of money; to qualify, all I to do was send a short message or call a foreign number.

When I posted the content of the SMS text on a blog, people who had received similar messages related their experiences, most had the same story to tell. That was when I realised idea how spammers got my number.

I have always wondered if someone at the petrol company had given or sold my phone number to a third party and that prompted me to I terminate my loyalty card membership with the company.

The reason I still go their petrol stations is because I am giving the company the benefit of the doubt - that my telco could also be responsible for the unsolicited SMS text messages I receive these days.

Monday, February 13, 2012

High time temple has multi-level parking facility

I TOOK my family to witness Thaipusam in Batu Caves last week. Because my youngest daughter wanted to join us, I decided to drive. In the past years, I went on my motorcycle, with my wife riding pillion. The motorcycle has been a practical mode of transport for me to get to Batu Caves which is not far from my home.

This year, for the first time, I drove to Batu Caves. Realising that the jam would be bad on Thaipusam day, I decided to go on the eve to avoid the crowd and traffic congestion. That evening, however, I realised how wrong I was.

Two kilometres from Batu Caves, along the Middle Ring Road II, a jam was building up. Seeing the number of cars slowing down to avoid vehicles indiscriminately parked by the roadside, I decided to turn into the light industrial area opposite Batu Caves. I thought I would be able to find parking space there since most factories were closed and the public parking lots empty.

I did find parking space there -- but most were booked by touts who marked their territories using traffic cones and raffia strings. Parking space must have been in high demand because I saw one "parking operator" openly advertising his fees -- RM10 for cars, and twice the amount for vans.

Having decided that parking too close to the temple was not worth the fee and refusing to pay the touts, I parked almost a kilometre away and walked to the temple. Of course, a kilometre's walk was a breeze for my wife and I since we were already walking five to six kilometres daily in the evenings.

But for someone who had trouble walking, or didn't know the area well, chances are that they would have paid the touts. Otherwise, they would risk having their vehicles scratched or dented for refusing to pay.

Have you wondered how ridiculous it is that some people who probably have never paid tax in their lives dare to claim the streets as their own and charge parking fees as they pleased?

Even the presence of Selayang Municipal Council officers and policemen did not deter the touts from doing brisk business.

The crowd gets bigger with each Thaipusam at Batu Caves. Despite the availability of public transport, some people still prefer to drive there for good reasons. Some may have come from faraway places, others may have family members with mobility problems. Because of these, they may need to park close to the temple for convenience.

Perhaps, it is time for the temple management to consider a multi-level parking facility within the temple ground or close to the area. This will not only help curb touts preying on the crowd, but also reduce indiscriminate parking along the busy MRRII which can lead to accidents.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Love, romance and oranges in the air

THE Chinese Lunar New Year officially ends on a romantic note tonight with Chap Goh Meh, which is Hokkien for Fifteenth Night.

The festival is usually celebrated by the community with another reunion party.

The tnee koay (nien gao in Mandarin) features prominently on the menu of Chap Goh Meh gatherings. The glutinous rice cakes, cut into slices and sandwiched between pieces of sweet potato or yam, are dipped in batter and deep-fried like banana fritters. They are served hot with tea.

In China, the celebration is known as Yuan Xiao, or Lantern Festival, held to welcome the first full moon of the new lunar year. It is largely dedicated to love and romance.

In the olden days, according to a story I heard, a lantern parade would be held in public parks. The lanterns bore poetic riddles written by single ladies looking for the love of their lives.

Eligible bachelors who thronged the parks had to decipher the riddles before they were allowed to ask for the hand of the maiden.

In Malaysia, while lanterns are reserved for the Mooncake Festival, romance is not. Chap Goh Meh is associated with the throwing of oranges. I am not sure how it all started, but a Penang friend swears that it originated in Gurney Drive three or four decades ago.

There is no way to authenticate the claim, although citrus throwing is undeniably a popular tradition in Penang, as it is in Malaysia and many Southeast Asian countries with a Chinese community. In fact, it has become an annual social event.

One such occasion made it to the news on TV a few years ago. I recall watching a sweet young lady confess how an orange changed her life - the one she threw into a lake promptly found its way to her dream partner, thanks to the waterproof ink she had used to write her phone number on the skin of the fruit. Otherwise, the man would not have been able to SMS her to start the ball of romance rolling.

Not all orange-throwing activities bear fruit, however. A fellow I know, who tried his luck every Chap Goh Meh, had failed to find a sweet ending to the quest for a dream girl. When someone told him that orange-throwing only worked for single women, he decided to resign himself to a life of bachelorhood, minding his nieces and nephews, and remaining blissfully free from the encumbrances that come with relationships.

At the end of tonight, as the celebratory cheer of Chap Goh Meh fades away, the bells of romance will be continuing to tinkle for in just eight days, the town will be painted red again and it will not be from leftover Chinese New Year decor.

Come next Tuesday, roses will cost a bomb; artificial ones crafted from red undergarments will be just as, if not more, expensive.

Eateries, particularly candle-lit restaurants, will make a killing in the name of love.

If you are single or a hopeless romantic - and if the commercialisation of Valentine's Day has yet to make you see red - succumbing to overindulgence may burn a hole in your pocket.