Monday, July 30, 2012

More women riding motorcycles

DID you notice an increase in the number of women motorcyclists in the city lately?

The next time when you are on the road, keep a lookout for them. I know  there are more of them than, say, five years ago.

A decade ago, few women would consider riding a motorcycle in the city. Many considered it dangerous, and many more considered it unladylike.

The only places you could find women motorcyclists in those days were   small towns such as Malacca and Penang, where traffic was sparse and the only threats to motorcyclists were cyclists and stray animals.

But thanks to the debut of scooters, every woman can now enjoy the freedom of mobility that comes with owning a B2 licence. Even those wearing high heels or the tightest skirts can now ride as elegantly as she should be when seated.

Convenience could be one reason why women ride scooters and motorcycles in the city, I think. Perhaps it is due to rural-urban migration that more of the fairer sex are taking to motorcycles. Of course, there could be other reasons.

A family friend rides a motorcycle to work because she has to pick her son up from school and send him home each afternoon. She figured it was faster to ride a motorcycle from her place of work to the school and send him home during  lunchtime, before rushing back to the office. To drive would have taken her twice as long.

A female school leaver who had just obtained her first job said she needed her own transport. Her position as an advertising sales executive requires her to be highly mobile, and with the daily jams in the town centre where her office is located, it was easier to ride a scooter than drive a car. The savings she obtained would be used for paying for  stuff like expanding her wardrobe or shoes. Of course, the price many women motorcyclists are paying, she adds, is that of a fragrance with a base note strong enough to overcome the smell of smoke and exhaust fumes caught on the blouse.

While women motorcyclists are a welcome sight for sore eyes because most of them ride better than  men, some are riding with the recklessness of their male counterparts. They are not Minah Rempit - the feminine version of the notorious Mat Rempit or hellriders -- but your neighbourhood kakak, makcik or ah soh.

Last week, while stopping at the Jalan Travers pedestrian walk, a women motorcyclist who was still sporting the probationary "P" licence shot through even though the traffic lights had turned red and all vehicles had stopped. She almost knocked into an elderly man crossing the strip and could have injured him and herself badly had the man not jump out of the path.

On one morning, a woman biker almost ended up being trapped between a garbage truck and a Rapid KL bus in Jalan Bangsar. Her impatience with the slow-moving traffic had caused her to weave in and out of the lanes when  miscalculation led to  her being caught in a tight spot between the heavy vehicles.

If the driver of the garbage truck  had not been alert and  managed to stop in time, she would have been crushed when the bus veered left to stop at a bus stop ahead.

I have also seen many women riders who ride  in the blind spot of drivers (the area diagonally left of the driver's seat which is difficult to see unless the car's rear and side mirrors are properly adjusted). Any sudden left turn by the driver could easily result in a crash.

The right to ride may be universal, but on the road, chivalry is almost dead. Some male motorists don't even give way to  men, let alone to women.  Female motorcyclists have only themselves to blame if they continue to throw caution to the wind. The price to pay will be much higher than that of losing  fragrance in the traffic.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Time to fine our 'well-educated' litterbugs

LAST week, a remark by a community leader in Bukit Bintang caught my attention. In welcoming the new KL mayor, Datuk Ahmad Phesal Talib, the community leader identified three critical issues that he claimed needed the prompt attention of City Hall.

One of the issues was cleanliness. He suggested education as the solution to littering.

I was amused when I read it. His suggestion made me wonder -- can anyone teach the city's litterbugs any more than what they have already been taught?

The chap has obviously been oblivious to the many cleanliness campaigns held in the city under various names, including corporate social responsibility and gotong-royong.

Have we not seen enough posters discouraging people from dirtying our surroundings? How many of these have ended up in the drain, literally and figuratively speaking? Have we not been urged enough by the radio and the TV to love cleanliness? Still, we are in an uphill battle against the rising mound of garbage in the city.

Take a look around you. I am sure you will be able to catch litterbugs, as innocent as they come, red-handed. For instance, smokers who throw cigarette butts onto the road, who, when you catch them in the act, quickly grind the smouldering stumps with their shoes, as if they are doing you a favour by preventing a fire.

Have you ever walked by the gaming outlets and seen how the used paper gaming foils litter the outlet and its surrounding areas? Ever asked why none of the gaming companies have come up with recycling bins for punters who have failed to strike it rich to at least do some good for the environment?

Visit any eating stall, restaurant or hawker centre and check out their back alleys and drains. Ever wondered how much food waste they generate each day and how much have gone into the drains and sewers unnoticed?

To think that litterbugs in the city need to be educated on cleanliness is a load of rubbish. What they need is not education. I am sure most of them love a clean environment. The reason they still throw garbage like they own the streets is because the rubbish do not end up in their homes or backyards.

Maybe it's time we stopped kidding ourselves that more education can turn the tide against littering. Stop cracking our brains, and use the cane instead.

Make litterbugs pay. Find them and fine them. Make an example out of some so that they become examples for others. This, I think, is the best way to educate those who continue to litter.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Do you have a recipe for a happy retirement?

I LIKE Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail's recipe for retirement. In an interview with this paper last Friday, the outgoing Kuala Lumpur mayor said his most immediate plan was to cook for his family for Ramadan. He will later open a restaurant or cafe, or perhaps write a recipe book.

Having served an extended two-year term to make sure the city is better off than it was three years ago, the former mayor certainly has made a good decision to serve his family now instead.

Many of us forget that we spend a third of our lives in dreamland, and the remainder chasing those dreams and building our careers. To be able to happily retire and pursue one's passion is a blessing indeed.

In between working on our careers and taking care of our family's day-to-day needs,  the years fly by without us realising it.

When all is done and the years have flown, we may realise, sometimes too late, that we should have spent more time with our loved ones or done  the  things that we loved instead of being tied to  the workplace and being consumed by our jobs even when we are away from the office.

No doubt, some of us are happier at the workplace than anywhere else but that's a different  story.

Cooking is a great way to show love and appreciation for the people who mean a great deal to us. Panir, a friend in the food business,  told me that if one cooks with love, even a simple meal will be a feast for the person eating it. I couldn't agree more, although I am no cook.

For all the fancy food I have eaten,  nothing is more satisfying than a  plate of steaming hot rice, a fried egg, cold cucumber slices and some belacan (shrimp paste) for a dip. It is a simple meal that my mother used to prepare for the family when I was growing up.

After I got married, my wife asked why I loved this meal so much. I told her it reminded me of the hardship my family faced post-1969, when my father's grocery business was ruined by racial strife. But the meal does not only remind me of hardships, it also reminds me of our resilience in overcoming difficult times.

My wife, who grew to share my love for the simple repast, would prepare it whenever she sensed that I was having a rough day.

I am sure Fuad's family will be overjoyed when he takes over the kitchen to cook them a buka puasa meal this Ramadan.

According to Fuad, the last time he cooked dinner for his family to buka puasa with was in 2000, when he was serving as the Subang Jaya Municipal Council president. Twelve years is a long time. And what better way to catch up  than over a buka puasa meal?

The former mayor celebrates his 59th birthday today. On top of wishing him a happy birthday, I hope  he will be blessed with the good health to celebrate many birthdays to come, and to cook many more meals for his family and friends.

And when he does open a restaurant or write a recipe book one day, he can count on my patronage.

Monday, July 9, 2012

No stomach for pricey probiotics

A FRIEND who had been grappling with constipation was bursting with joy when we met up for dinner recently. He was all smiles the minute he stepped into the Chinese restaurant at Sentul Raya. He even suggested that we order the Szechuan steamed stingray, a dish he used to avoid because the black pepper would worsen his constipation.

When I asked him what had relieved him from his chronic ill, he said it was probiotics. He found out about the friendly gut bacteria at a health fair in Singapore recently.

Not only is his bowel movement now regular, even his eczema was gone, he said.

Now a probiotics evangelist, my friend actively encourages his family to go on probiotics-rich diet. That evening, he did not only explained the benefits of probiotics to me, he even gave me a list of brands to check out.

I told him that I had been taking probiotics for many years but mine did not come with fancy names nor were they imported. Mine is commonly known by it Indian name -- tairu, the plain yogurt even non-Indians can learn to make in their kitchen.

I learnt how to make yogurt years ago after Indian friends told me that tairu (creamy yogurt) or moru (the liquid counterpart) taken with a dash of salt, was not only good for the gut but also fantastic for dispelling heatiness.

I was also told that yogurt was frequently added to Indian dishes.

However, I learnt about the health benefits of lactobacillus, the good bacteria present in yogurt, way back in the early 1980s. Now I make a kilo every few days for my youngest daughter. She started taking it six months ago when I told her it would help heal mouth ulcers. I had learnt that from a book by Adele Davis, a nutritionist who pioneered the concept of eating right to keep fit.

Four decades ago, who had heard of probiotics? Or used it to keep constipation at bay? Those days, if one is constipated, doctors usually recommended laxatives, one of which is Brooklax. It looks like a small piece of Cadbury chocolate. Take it at bedtime and you will find fast relief in the morning.

Even the commercially-available cultured milk drink had yet to make its appearance back then. I remember how much trouble the salesmen had trying to explain why the lactobacillus bacteria was good for the gut to the less-educated shopper.

Those days, however, most people were already eating healthy traditional foods that contained generous amounts of good bacteria. If you recall, the Chinese have their lum yee (fermented beancurd), hak tau see (fermented black beans), phei tan (century egg) and preserved ginger.

The Malays made tapai (fermented tapioca or glutinous rice) and tempe (fermented soyabean cakes), in addition to pekasam (fermented fish).

Most Indian families made their own yogurt long before commercial ones appeared on the shelves.

Today taking probiotics have become a fad. Those who swear by it, like my friend, tell me that good probiotics should contain live cultures. The capsules have to be kept refrigerated and taken on the long-term before the effects are seen or felt. They also don't come cheap.

The way I see it, if we could just look back at what our forefathers ate and put those "peasant foods" on our table, we certainly don't need to stomach the marketing hype or be constipated paying through our noses for commercial probiotics.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Humble fare no longer small potatoes

HAVE you ever had steamed tapioca (or ubi kayu) for breakfast? It was common fare back in the old days. It was seldom sold at the stalls because it was not as popular as breakfast staples nasi lemak, nasi dagang and kuih , but it was often served at home.

Folk ate it with grated young coconut or dipped in sugar. As a kid, I ate it, too, but with ikan kering (salted fish), usually selar kuning (yellow-tailed scad).

Steamed tapioca was regarded as humble fare for the poor. It was very cheap, at only 10 cents a kati (or 600 grammes). Two katis were enough to provide an ample meal for a family of five.

Tapioca plants grow quite easily, too, and most homes would have a few planted in their backyards to provide shade for the ducks and chicken.

To grow a tapioca plant, you only need to stick a cut stem into the soil. Even with minimal care, it would mature in about 10 months to provide you with three to five tubers, each the size of a corncob. If you regularly feed the plant cow or chicken manure, it would reward you with tubers as big as a man's thigh.

Harvested tubers can keep for a long time if stored in a cool, dry place, away from the rats.

Apart from being steamed, the tubers can also be grated and baked into tapioca cakes. People also made tapioca flour at a time when cornstarch was a luxury.

Recently, at a coffee shop in Hulu Kelang, I saw plastic packets of steamed tapioca sold at RM1.50 each. Curious, I asked a friend, a regular there, if steamed tapioca was making a comeback.

The chap told me that the steamed tapioca there had found a loyal following, especially among foreign workers. A packet of steamed tapioca was more filling than regular breakfast items and much cheaper, too.

Another poor man's fare, sweet potatoes, are enjoying a revival with city folk, especially the health-conscious.

Rebranded as "wholesome, healthy snacks", roasted potatoes are selling like hot cakes at kiosks in shopping malls, especially at the one near my home. Last Thursday, curiosity and hunger got the better of me after a round of marketing there.

The growling in my stomach turned into piteous pleading at the scent of roasted sweet potatoes.

I headed for the stall, picked a yellow-skinned sweet potato slightly bigger than my fist and asked the foreigner manning the stall for the price. After putting the tuber on the electronic scale, he said, "RM7.50."

When I complained that it was expensive, he told me his sweet potatoes cost RM1.80 per 100g, the reason being they were imported from Japan. My appetite left me, and I, apologising, left the stall.

While roasted sweet potato may be a more salubrious snack than burger and fries, the indulgence would not be healthy for my wallet.

I would be literally paying through the nose if I had succumbed to the scent of nostalgia that evening. On top of that, I would be a "han choo thow" (or potatohead in Hokkien).