Monday, August 27, 2012

For life is for living and loving

OVER the last long weekend, I took my family to visit my friend Chris at his farm in Port Dickson.

My wife and I had decided to take a family holiday before my eldest daughter started her medical studies at the varsity next month.

The trip was also for my wife and I to catch up with Chris, whom we  had not met since he retired.

When we arrived at the farm, Chris had just returned from shopping for supplies in town. As we helped him to unload and carry the bags into the farm house, I saw how clearly excited my daughters were by the sight of the motley crew of farm animals -- some in enclosures and some roaming freely and peaceably.

Their excitement brought back cherished memories  of the fishing trips and long drives into the countryside that I took them on when they were in primary school -- trips that grew less frequent  as they entered secondary school that meant important examinations to study for and more school activities.

That afternoon,  it dawned on this father how fast time had flown.

At the farm, my daughters fed the ostriches and goats. They took pictures with the turkeys, guinea fowls, Silkies and rabbits. They even managed to coax the wild baby macaque, which the farm hands had named Gigi, into posing for a photo.

My wife was impressed by how tame and friendly the farm animals were. I said that could only be the result of  the care and kindness shown to them by the farm hands. Animals (unlike some people, sadly) know when they are loved and they will reciprocate that love with obedience and loyalty.

A couple of donkeys grazing at the far end of the farm came trotting up at Chris's call. So did the ostriches and a month-old kid in the goat pen. Even Gigi was feeding off Chris's palm like a small child as he spoke to it.

I was amazed how the animals seemed to understand him. It was like a scene out of Dr Doolittle.

My wife asked me how much it cost to run a farm. It must be quite a sum, I said. But to turn a piece of wilderness into a genuine haven for animals and a sanctuary for nature lovers like Chris had so admirably achieved must have cost much, much more.

As we were driving back to the hotel that evening, my wife commented that Chris did not look a day older than when we last saw him.

I said he must have found and drank of the fountain of youth at the farm. Plenty of fresh air and sunshine and none of stress would have formed part of the recipe of that sweet beverage.

But the most potent ingredient in that elixir must be his passion for his work. For if he did not love what he did, he would not be able to toil daily  at the farm, where some of the duties can be back-breaking, much less grow seemingly younger  while working harder than ever.

I have read that people who live their lives with passion are always full of energy and enthusiasm. They are also a joy to be with.

So is it any wonder that someone like Chris does not seem to age? Even Time, who waits for no man,  will stand still to watch this particular man living his life with such happiness and contentment!

On the opposite end, those who do not love life will have much to complain about. Instead of filling their  waking hours with dreams and hope, they invite fear, jealousy, suspicion and hate into their hearts, where they fester and corrode the soul.

They are throwing away the precious little time we have to live, love and be loved. And that is a tragedy.

Dear readers, I am taking a break from writing this column to pursue my long-neglected passion for art. If you have been following this column for the last four years, thank you for your support. My parting words to you are: Take care. And don't let modern life make you forget to how to live.

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's good move to clear one's table after meal

A COMPANY canteen across the road from our office where my colleagues and I go for lunch has just implemented the "clean up after you eat" ruling recently.

I was not aware of it after not having been there for several weeks. When I was at the canteen recently, several notices  in Mandarin caught my attention, so I asked one of my colleagues what they were about.

My colleague said the notices requested patrons to clear their tables after meals. Pails were placed in the dining area.

Those who had finished eating, I noticed, would dutifully clear their tables of the utensils and put them in the pails.

Prior to this, a canteen worker used to go around cleaning the tables. Whenever there was a large crowd, two workers would be assigned to the task so that those who had just come in to take their meals would have a place to sit and eat.

Someone said the canteen was facing manpower shortage and the new ruling was put in place. It was the most intelligent thing I have seen in an eatery. The few days that my colleagues and I were there, not one person disobeyed the ruling. After their meals, patrons would drop the dirty plates, forks, spoons, and cups into the pails. Those who were not aware of the ruling were gently reminded to do so.

I remember at one time, fast food restaurants used to ask patrons to do the same. Those who had finished eating would clear their tables and drop trays of leftovers into a special bin. Whenever I saw diners at fast food restaurants clearing their own tables, I will praise their good habits to my children and urged them to do the same.

These days, such scenarios are rare. In many fast food restaurants I have been to, most customers order, eat and just leave their leftovers and dirty plates  on the table to be cleared by the waiters and waitresses.

The reason many are not clearing the tables is because they think that cleaning the tables is part of the restaurant's service.

An excuse given by many people I asked is that if one has to pay service tax, then why should one do the restaurant operator's work? They failed to see, however, that the simple act also reflects civic mindedness.

For example, like one incident I witnessed in a fast food outlet at MRRII some time back. This fast food restaurant, which is located near the Karak highway, was understaffed.

The kitchen and counter crew members had been trying to cope with a sudden surge of customers that morning when a woman customer stormed into the premises and demanded that a table that she had chosen for her family be cleared.

When the counter staff said that it would be done as soon as someone was available, the woman raised her voice and berated the chap, before giving a lecture on good service. She even threatened to report the matter to the management if no one cleared the table.

Finally, not wishing to create a scene, the counter staff member apologised to the customers waiting in queue so that he could clear the table for the angry woman.

As the woman walked after the staff member to her table, an elderly gentleman in the queue muttered "kurang sopan" (lacking in manners) rather loudly. I was sure the woman heard it.

But whether the remark had embarrassed her sufficiently to make her think twice about being inconsiderate the next time she walks into a fast food restaurant, who knows?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Quest for authentic Penang street food

IF you were to ask me where you can find the best nasi dagang in the country, I will say in Terengganu. At the risk of being accused of bragging about my home state, I will also add that if you have tasted Terengganu nasi dagang, you will crave for no other.

Don't get me wrong. There is also the Kelantan nasi dagang, which comes pretty close to the Terengganu variety in terms of taste, but I still think Terengganu's is still better. The secret is in the rice -- Kelantan uses brown rice while Terengganu uses long grain white Siamese rice.

Steamed to perfection in coconut milk with fresh shallots, ginger and halba (fenugreek seeds) in a special steamer that can only be found in Terengganu, the nasi dagang has few equals. And once you have taken a whiff of the steaming hot rice just brought out of the steamer, you will remember it for a long time.

If you have eaten it with gulai ikan aya (local tuna) cooked with belimbing besi  Terengganu-style, I think you will not want to waste your time with other nasi dagang variants. In fact, I would be terribly offended, just like the Penangites were a few weeks ago, if someone were to tell me that Terengganu nasi dagang is not the best.

Did you read about's ranking of  Penang in its Top 10 Best Street Food Cities? Its placement of the Pearl of the Orient, third after Bangkok and Singapore,  had ruffled quite a number of feathers in Penang. Even feuding Penang politicians have put aside their differences to defend their gastronomic pride.

But I agree with Penang people that the state has few rivals where street food is concerned. If it does not claim top spot, no one should. Really, it doesn't take discerning palates to acknowledge Penang as the region's street food paradise. The fact that you can find Penang food from Alor Star to Johor Baru --and some say even in Ho Chi Minh city --   is testimony enough. After all, how many  countries can lay claim to its indigenous dishes like Penang?

You don't hear many types of Singapore food being sold outside Lion City, do you? Save for Singapore beehoon (or Sing Chow Mai in Cantonese for  vermicelli fried with beansprouts and tomato sauce) and the Singapore rojak, I have tasted no other bearing the Lion City brand in Klang Valley hawker centres.

But visit any food court here and look for Penang assam laksa, lor bak, char kway teow, pasembur, or nasi kandar, and chances are that you will find one or two stalls professing to be from the island or Prai. If this is no indication of Penang's fame for street food, what is?

Penang's only problem, I think, is the popularity of its street food. There are so many Penang assam laksa, char kway teow, and pasembur these days that my taste buds are beginning to lose track of how the original, authentic ones tasted like anymore.

So these days, when I frequent the so-called Penang food stalls, I test to see if the food is sold by an authentic Penangite.

I will casually ask: "Loo see Peneng lang?" (You are from Penang?) and if I get answers like: "See la, gua Poolau Tikoos lai!" (Yes, I come from Pulau Tikus) or "Gua tua tsua khar lai" (I come from Bukit Mertajam), I will know that I am on the right food trail. But again you can't tell.

Last week, a "Penang lor bak" stall operator in a Kepong hawker centre surprised me when I threw the test question. The Chinese-looking lady responded in perfect Penang-Hokkien -- that she came from Medan.

Apparently, Hokkiens there speak a similar sounding  dialect. She was in fact manning the stall for a chap from Balik Pulau in Penang