Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Happy 54th Merdeka Day!

One of my most well-loved students updated his status on Facebook with this statement:

home is & will always be where the heart is, HAPPY 54TH BIRTHDAY MALAYSIA!!! ♥ - Chee Kin

Being a newly qualified pilot for a low-cost carrier in our neighbouring island country, he has always had a strong connection to home, further fuelled by his studies and training overseas. Now that he is officially allowed to fly his own planeful of passengers around the world, I am assuming that his urge to have roti canai and Milo ais at any time of the day will grow. Hm, or pan mee from that stall in front of the Sri Kembangan high school.

On a more personal note, I have not really been a big fan of Merdeka-related activities, other than the public holiday that it gave. If you consider watching the annual Merdeka parade on the black box in the living room one of them, then that would be the only thing I do in the Merdeka spirit.

I know I have mentioned this before elsewhere but I am going to say it again here. I think that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Only after leaving the country have I found the Merdeka spirit growing inside of me. Being away from all the festivities in Malaysia has made me miss 'being Malaysian'.

We are no less Malaysian anywhere we go but we are most Malaysian when we are in Malaysia. We adapt to the context that we are in, redefining who we are from the way we present ourselves, the type of English that we use and the way we dress, to list a few.

The recent Bersih 2.0 rally that took place around the world a few months ago has helped in building this 'extra strong' feeling of love for the country. The power of the Internet - remember the powerful message that was sent out by the photo of Aunty Bersih, Aunty Annie Ooi? For the want of a better government for the love for the country.

Also, thank goodness for the Internet, I get to watch all those tear-jerking, tug-at-the-heartstrings TV adverts on YouTube. Like these ones by Astro, Primeworks Studios and Petronas:

Haha, I would not be surprised if my colleagues, lecturers and students who walk past my office while I watch these would wonder why I smile to myself while staring into my flatscreen. I must look rather silly!

In full Malaysian pride, I wish my dearest tanahair a very
54th Merdeka Day!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Selamat Hari Raya!

I may not be Malay nor Muslim but I am Malaysian. We celebrate everything, do we not?

Another Raya away from home.
I suppose this is the feeling that builds up the the balik kampung excitement for many. After a long period of time away from family and kin and the month-long puasa, nothing beats the anticipation of familiar faces, sounds and smell.

Another year without ketupat, rendang, lemang, kuih raya and duit raya.
Okay, okay, I know the duit raya is mainly for kids but hey, if I am still given some, I will not reject! And ahem, yes, I know I love my food. But how can you resist ketupat?


And rendang?


And lemang?


And kuih raya?


Another year of getting the Raya feel over YouTube and Facebook.
Doing this nevers fails to make me all emotional and homesick. I still do it regardless. This year, I particular like the Dear Malaysians campaign by DiGi, in reminding us all to ask for forgiveness for the wrongdoings that we have committed. By the end of the song, "For Forgiveness", sang by young talented Malaysian Min'Z, I had tears welling up in my eyes.

Here is to wishing all my Muslimin and Musliman friends:
Selamat Hari Raya,
maaf zahir batin!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Malacca Straits on Broadway

The Strait of Malacca was a prominent passageway for spice traders from the Middle East and South Asia in their economy-generating travels to South-East Asia and East Asia. This stretch of water between the Malay Peninsular and the Indonesian island of Sumatra was globally known, especially during the glory days of the Malacca Sultanate, after which it is named.

As Malaysians, how would a restaurant named after such prominence (especially after we have all the Malacca-related stuff drilled into our heads during our high school days of History) not catch our attention? However, I would have to admit that the restaurant is rather hidden. But since it is located within The Quadrant which partly houses UTS students and partly office quarters, I suppose the problem of crowd flow is not big.

Cosy in ambience, patrons to the restaurant are welcomed by an "Alamak!" sign on the wall. 'Alamak' is the Malaysian equivalent of 'Oh no', 'Oh gosh', 'Darn' or 'Bugger'. I wonder why they have it there, though.

We giggled ourselves silly upon hearing the broken Manglish sprinkled with Hokkien words coming from the kitchen. Ah, Malaysian feel from the lingo, check! After browsing through their purple and green menu, we decided on having pulut panggang ($10.50) for starters. Wrapped in fragrant banana leaf and grilled, a roll of spiced glutinous rice with dried shrimp awaited.

Okay, I admit this is a poor photo of the inside. It so does not reflect the fragrance and spiciness of the dried shrimp and the 'just right' texture of the glutinous rice hot off the grill.

The Hainanese chicken rice ($9.50), on the other hand, was less impressive. The steamed chicken was far from the succulent, the rice too dry and not sufficiently fragrant. Their home-made chilli sauce made up for it, though.

No complains on the wat tan hor ($11.00), though! The generous serving of wok-seared flat rice noodles immersed in a creamish egg sauce with chicken and mixed (real) seafood deserved two thumbs up. Of course, best eaten with them pickled green chilli!

The meal was capped off with a bowl of ais kacang ($5.00), which they called air batu campur instead.

Hm, I still prefer those they make up at Sambal. However, not too bad a job by Chef Tan, the person behind this set up. The ex-chef of two other famous Malaysian restaurants in Sydney - The Malaya and Neptune Palace, he is also formerly the Executive Chef of Malaysia Airlines (MAS), the national carrier of Malaysia.

If you are breaking fast during this soon-to-end Ramadhan, pay Chef Tan a visit at this halal joint of his.

Malacca Straits on Urbanspoon

Malacca Straits on Broadway
66 Mountain Street, Broadway, NSW 2007
Tel: +61 2 8021 7069
Monday to Saturday: 11:00am to 10:00pm
Cards welcome but with a minimum spend of $15

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Bagan is the name of an ancient city in the Mandalay Division of Burma. The ruins of Bagan cover an area of 16 square miles and the majority of its buildings were built in the 11th to 13th century, during the time Bagan was the capital of the First Burmese Empire. As such, the restaurant had decor that attempted to reflect the rich history of its country (with a heavy Buddhist influence).

On their appetizer list included the following two dishes:

Green mango seasoning ($5.50), a great way to intrigue the taste buds! If you enjoy sour tastes, this is definitely your dish! And then the mains arrived, starting with their famous pork curry with green mango pickle ($8.50).

Okay, down the fat lane for sure now. Imagine rendang (okay, weird to have pork rendang) with a tinge of sweet and sour because of the mango. And spicy because of the curry. Yes, symphony of tastes - thumbs up, especially with the pork so tender!

The Bagan chicken ($12) was a little like honey chicken just done lots better. We even kept half to bring home.

I did not take down the name of this dish and the price of it but if my memory serves me correctly, it was salt and pepper bean curd and we totally loved it!

For the bean curd crazy like me, the fried bean curd with special chilli sauce ($10) is a must have. I remember one of us ordering another serve to takeaway for lunch the next day. I am salivating now thinking of the spicy sauce that layers the crunchy piping hot bean curd.

As we hardly buy fish to cook at home, we ordered one.

This steamed barramundi with lemon (market price), which was served on a stainless steel plate with a candle holder (what is the proper name for it, help?!) underneath brought back memories of us having dinner out at a 'dai chow' (大炒) Chinese restaurant. The sourness from the lemon in the sauce went really well with the spiciness of the chilli. We cleaned the entire plate.

Now, we cannot try new cuisine without having their dessert, can we?

We tried the Burmese version of sago pudding but with taro pieces in it. It was too sweet for my liking and had too much coconut milk but hey, if you like the combination of the two, it is not too bad.

Be sure to ring them up to reserve a table for yourself and friends, especially if you plan to eat there on a weekend.

Bagan on Urbanspoon

Bagan Burmese Restaurant
Shop 4, 41, The Boulevarde, Strathfield, NSW 2135
Tel: +61 2 8746 0666
Tuesday to Sunday 12pm-10pm

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We teach who we are

I am glad I dragged myself out of bed early this morning to attend the lecture at 8:00am. Since I told Clare that I would be there, I told myself not to create excuses. And so there I was at the lecture theatre with the other tutors and some fifty-odd students.

This morning, the lecture was presented by a guest lecturer, Dr. William De Jean. And it was one heck of a lecture! If every lecture was as interactive and hyped up as his was, I would attend every single one of them!
The lecture reminded me of some of the lectures that were conducted last year for the same unit. The first questions he asked us to answer were why we were going into teaching and our intentions for doing so. My reply was a slightly selfish one. I am going into teaching (I am teaching) because these is a special feeling of achievement and pride when someone I have taught comes back to say ‘thank you’. I find that such appreciation actually motivates me to be better. So, indirectly, teaching helps me better myself because like what Dr. De Jean kept emphasising throughout his lecture, we teach who we are.

He asked us to read aloud the following questions, which he took out of The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life by Parker J. Palmer, an author, educator, and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change:
The question we most commonly as is the “what” question – what subjects shall we teach?
When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question – what methods and techniques are required to teach well?
Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question – for what purpose and to what ends do we teach?
But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question – who is the self that teaches?
He related that back to how we are educated (as opposed to trained) as teachers. We almost always justify our teaching with what is in the best interest of the children. It always is for the children. We almost always not talk about ourselves. What about us? We teach who we are so how can we not place some amount of significance on ourselves?

I liked how he metaphorically referred to our teaching as roadmaps. We have all these directions to follow. We use compasses because we are going places we do not even know. How do we know where we are going with our teaching? Do we know what the creative superminds we are teaching today will create for tomorrow? I think we can only assume that we are laying a foundation for the younger generation. What kind of a foundation will depend on who we are.

Like it or not, our identity is made up not only of who we think we are but also who we think we are not. Dr. De Jean likened it to a beach ball that is being held forcefully underwater. Yes, the beach ball is our shadow and what we suppress will always surface when we are unable to take the pressure any longer. So, what do we truly believe about difference? Do we really treat everyone equally? Do we really know what it feels like to be wearing glasses or to walk with a plastered foot?

What do we truly believe about success? If people work hard, will they really succeed? Does that mean that people who do not succeed are people who are not trying?

What do we truly believe about intelligence? Who do we believe is “smart” and who do we think is not? Who do we believe seems “motivated and who is not? Who do we believe should and should not go to university?
What do we believe about language? What do we laugh at? Why do we say “Hey, guys” when half the crowd is made up of females?

What do we truly believe about gender? How do we believe boys should act? How do we believe girls should act? We get concerned when they do not act the way we think they should.

What do we truly believe or feel when we hear an accent? What are our emotional responses? How is it different if it is French, American, Aboriginal or Spanish? Why do we think that when someone speaks English in a French or Scottish accent sounds beautiful or sexy while a person who speaks English in an Asian accent needs to attend an English speaking course?

How often do we think about our race, gender, sexual orientation, “accent”, nationality, class and language?
How well do we know our selves? Our light, brilliance, gifts, talents, compassion, intuition and healthy boundaries. Our fears, shadows, judgements, hidden belief systems, agendas and grief.

What do we think? What do we feel? To me, I think that there are many challenges in being the teacher we think we can be and I feel that there is a heavy sense of responsibility that comes with it.

Quoting Margaret J. Wheatley (commonly known as Meg Wheatley), a writer and management consultant who studies organisational behaviour with approaches including systems thinking, theories of change, chaos theory, leadership and the learning organisation (particularly its capacity to self-organise),
“The leaders we need are already here.”
If they are already here, our jobs as teachers are to make sure that we make them absolutely fantabulous leaders. Get out our compasses (GPSes?)!

*Unless otherwise hyperlinked, much detail included here were from the lecture slides provided this morning.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

In 10 weeks, the last 10 days

Exactly ten weeks ago, while I was shopping in IKEA for things to move into where I am living at now, I received a call from home telling me about the passing of Grandpa. Ten weeks later now, I am back home.

I have been home for ten days. The last ten days of her life.


In the afternoon on the day after the evening I arrived, I drove Mum and 小阿姨 to University Malaya Specialist Centre (UMSC). The hospital was crisp clean and adequately decorated. I prepared myself as best as possible with Mum prepping me,
"Tell you first ar, 婆婆 looks very different to the last time you saw her."


I turned the knob to push the door open.
She did not realise that it was me. I called out again.

"唉, 你回来了?"
A big smile flashed across her face. Her tired eyes sparkled in the light.

It was heart-breaking to see how much effort it took her to breathe. And when she coughed, it felt like every ounce of energy left in her would be drained away.

A young doctor, Dr. Tan, came in to talk to everyone for a good half hour. Nice chap from Penang, he made sure she received everything she requested. He managed to get her approval to have her stay until the latest Friday, so that he could ascertain the morphine dosage that was required.

She laughed at jokes. She ate the slices of watermelon she asked for. She tried to sleep.

On the way home, 小阿姨 noted that it has been some time since anyone saw her in such a happy mood.
Who would not be happy to see someone they have not seen in a long time?


The next day, she suddenly requested to return home. No, demanded. And that was just 15 minutes after she told Dr. Tan that she would continue her stay at UMSC. We all knew, her time is near.

I rushed over with Dad as soon as I locked up the centre. The ambulance was still there. Two of my aunts were red in the face from their crying. 小阿姨 told me to say some nice things to her, to let her know what a wonderful person she has been.
My voice quivered. Tears welled up in my eyes. I had to quickly exit the room before my tears rolled down my cheeks.


Thursday and Friday were days that passed by slowly for us. She drifted in and out of consciousness and her breathing was heavier than before. It was obvious that it was getting harder and harder for her to breathe.

She was in her best condition that weekend. With Cousin Meng Cheng bringing her baby Kevin to visit his great-grandmother, as well as Cousin Pei Qi with her baby Yang Yang, the atmosphere lightened up significantly. She finally got to see the fourth generation of her family. I remember telling Mum on the way back to the centre to be prepared even more.


Mum rang to ask where I was. I told her that I was working at home and asked if she needed me to be at the centre. She said that I should stay home to get some work done and would ring me only if she would not be able to make it back to the centre in time to lock up.

6:25pm. I felt something amiss. Mum has not rang me. Why did she not require my help? I rang her and heard her all groggy from the powerful effect of the medication she consumed.
"Stay there. I am coming down right now. 10 minutes."
I have never seen Mum in such state. She did not even have strength to walk and talk properly. I felt absolutely helpless.


Bro came home to tell Dad that he just visited and things do not seem very good over that side.

"I think we had better dapau some food to bring to your Mum first then only deposit the money."


"Wah, so many cars today? Everyone must be here tonight!"

"Hm, something's not right."
"Mummy didn't call you?"

I rushed into the room. I quickly kneeled down and joined in the chanting.
"南无啊弥陀佛... 南无啊弥陀佛... 南无啊弥陀佛... "
45 minutes later, there was no movement.

10:00pm, August 3, 2011, Grandma ended her painful battle with lung cancer with many us in the room with her.