Saturday, July 30, 2005
When I was a young man, an eon ago, the universal phobia was the disease tuberculosis or TB, for short, and when this topic was discussed voices would be lowered several decibels, very often to almost inaudible whispers and sometimes the disease would be alluded to as TZ by the superstitious ostensibly for fear of angering the gods who might cause the speaker to come down with the affliction for daring to talk about the disease openly. Then later tuberculosis lost its lustre and was replaced by cancer or euphemistically referred to as the "big C" . At the time when cancer was the pet fear, know-alls would come forth with all sorts of recommended "sure cures" and advice on what food should be avoided in order not to fall prey to the dreadful disease. Then cancer was replaced by aids and once we were educated enough to realize that aids could be avoided if we did not share needles and practised safe sex we moved on. Today the favourite topic of doom is cholesterol. A lot of people are obsessed with cholesterol. They go for their yearly cholesterol level checks, they take cholesterol lowering drugs and they avoid certain foods like the plague and as a result their lives become that much duller. A friend of mine was put on cholesterol lowering drugs by his doctor and every evening he would suffer an attack of nausea and disorientation. Very often he did not know where he was or what he was doing!
The other day I was in a queue at an economy rice stall when a voice behind me said, "Aiyoh, you dare to eat squids, ah? They are so full of cholesterol!"
Squids, prawns, crabs and lobsters (The latter item one can hardly afford nowadays because they cost a bomb!) are my favourite and as far as I eat sensibly I don't think I should worry about the extra cholesterol that comes with them. If I feed on squids every meal every day, I must be crazy or I must be tired of living but I feel that two squids with my meal once a fortnight or once a month shouldn't condemn me to the grave ahead of my time. I stopped going for my annual cholesterol test some years ago when a consumers' association came out with the news that they sent three batches of blood from the same person to three different laboratories for testing and the results that came back were shockingly dissimilar. Nowadays I try to "live dangerously" once or twice a month when I throw caution to the wind and eat my favourite "char koay teow" or "goo bak koay teow".
For the information of people who are interested the 5 types of food that have the highest cholesterol content are:
per 100 gm of food and cholesterol content in mg
1. quail's egg 3640
2. pig's brain 3100
3. ox brain 2300
4. egg yolk 2000
5. cuttlefish 1700
Friday, July 29, 2005
When we first booked the tour the date of departure was a different date. Two weeks later the tour agent rang us up and told us that the date had been changed to Friday, 13.5.05, and wanted to know whether we would mind taking off on that date. We thought we would be the rare few to defy the gods but on our arrival in Vienna we found that there were 30 other people who, like us, did not believe in that old wives' superstition. The direct flight from KL to Vienna by MAS took approximately 11 hours and the time in Europe is 6 hours behind Malaysian time. The temperature at this time of the year was between 12 and 14 degrees Celsius. A light jacket would suffice. There was a lot of walking to be done and a backpack would come in handy for the camera and a bottle of water. The days were long and the nights short, daylight was at 4.30 am and nightfall around 8.30 pm. We woke up early, around 5 am, and we could take a walk around on our own before it was time for breakfast and the day's departure. The tour took us to Budapest in Hungary where there was a city orientation tour, a Danube River cruise and visits to Heroes' Square, Matthias Church, Fisherman's Bastion and Gellert Hill from where we had a fantastic view of Budapest; Munich in Germany where we tried a pig's trotter with 3 tankards of German beer and the bill came to 45 euros or approximately RM225 (the exchange rate was actually RM4.98 per euro when we left, today it is about RM4.64) and we also tasted German sausages at a market square; Brno and Prague in the Czech Republic with city orientation tours and visits to Strahov Monastery, Konopiste Castle, Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral; Bratislava in Slovakia with a city orientation tour and visits to the Old Town Hall, Opera House and George Fountain and finally Vienna and Salzburg where apart from the city orientation tours we visited Schronbrunn Palace and a vineyard. The meals provided alternated between Western food and Chinese food and the hotels were good. From Prague, enroute to Munich, we were taken to the infamous Dacha Concentration Camp where we learnt of the horrors perpetrated to the Jews during World War II. In Salzburg of the "Sound of Music" fame, we visited Mirabell Garden, Hohensalzburg Castle Fortress, Music Festival Hall, Domplatz, Residenzplatz, Mozartplatz, the bustling Geitreidegasse and Mozart's birthplace. In Vienna apart from Schronbrunn Palace, we were also taken to Belvedere Palace with its beautiful Baroque terraced gardens, Ring Strasse with the Parliament Building, Burgtheatre, Voltif Church, the majestic Hofburg Imperial Palace, Pallas Athene Fountain, Town Hall Building, Opera House, OPEC Building, Beethovan Memorial and Hunderwasser House. We also visited Stadt Park to view Johann Strauss memorial and St Stephen's Cathedral. The palaces and cathedrals in this part of Europe are a sight to behold!
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds - and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it
And - which is more -
YOU'LL BE A MAN, MY SON
We went on a tour of northern India from 22.8.04 - 28.8.04, covering New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, primarily to see the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world. The hotels were good and the food, nearly every meal, was Indian food except for one meal when we were taken to a Chinese restaurant where we were given Chinese food, cooked Indian style. However, Indian food in India does not contain as much chilli oil as the mamak food we get locally and it was therefore kinder to the stomach. Apart from the Taj Mahal, we were also taken to several forts and palaces, all of which were still in a very well-preserved condition and very beautiful. The Taj Mahal did not disappoint, it is as beautiful as the text books have described it and to guard it against environmental pollution, our bus, just as all other buses, had to stop some distance away from the monument and we were transported by electric buses for the rest of the way. Just as in Cambodia, the world beyond our hotel perimeter in India was greatly in contrast with the luxury and opulence of modern living. Even in New Delhi rubbish was everywhere and the better shopping areas we were taken to were nothing compared to the malls in our country. Nevertheless, the aim of the tour was not to shop but to see one of the wonders of the world and the other historical places which India had to offer.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nuture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
---- Max Ehrmann (1872-1945)
lawyer, poet, essayist
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
We went to Cambodia from 31.7.04 - 3.8.04, primarily to see Angkor Wat, one of the wonders of the world and we were not disappointed. In Siem Reap we were put up in Hotel Goldiana, a lovely hotel and still very new. Outside the hotel it was a totally different world, so removed from the luxury and opulence of modern living. The splendour and perfection of Angkor Wat did not disappoint. The parts of this historical site that we visited were only a small fraction of the vastness of this ancient city, many parts of which are still not open to tourists because of uncleared landmines. We spent 2 nights in Siem Reap, taking a cruise on Tonle Sap and visiting a floating village, the vast and famous lake in Cambodia, before flying to Phnom Penh. In Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, we visited the infamous Killing Field and were shown the places where the atrocities were committed and also Tuol Sleng Museum, a former high school turned into a prison and a torture chamber during the Pol Pot regime, where we heard more horror stories. We were also taken to the beautiful Royal Palace which has been restored at great cost. In the grounds of the Royal Palace, we visited a Buddhist temple, the floor of which was paved with solid silver tiles! Outside the Royal Palace as in many other places we visited there were adults and children with missing limb/limbs begging. A visit to Cambodia is a valuable lesson in that we feel so much luckier to be where we are.
Monday, July 25, 2005
The 9 day Yunnan Special Tour was from 20.9.03 to 28.9.03 and it took us to Kunming, Jiuxiang, Shilin Yi Autonomous County, Dali and Lijiang. We were taken to Yu Long Snow Mountain where a winter jacket and a bottle of oxygen were provided although most of the members of our group did not find the oxygen necessary, Pai Sui River, Yu Feng Temple, Bai Sha Wall Drawings, Black Dragon Pool, Shi Fang Jie Old Town, Butterfly Spring, Dali Old Town, General Tu museum, Er Hai Park, Three Pagodas, Mountain Chang by cable car, Yan Families + 3 cups of tea + Bai Minority Dancing, Yuan Tong Temple, Grand View Garden, Golden Hall, Loh Shi Bay Whole Sale Area, Western Hill by cable car, the Stone Forest and Jiuxiang Cave. Special meals provided included "Guoqiao" Bee Hoon, Clay Pot Chicken, Cantonese Seafood, "Yiliang" Roasted Duck, Sa Ni Da Bing Ai Ni Special, Chinese Herbs and Dali Fish Head Clay Pot. There was an overnight stay in Singapore before we flew to Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan, to begin our tour.
The weather in Yunnan in September was ideal for walking tours and although it was a bit nippy at times, a jacket was suffice and provided comfortable warmth. At Jiuxiang caves there was a lot of walking to be done and at one stage we had to climb several hundred steps to see the stalactites and stalagmites. Senior citizens need to be quite fit to survive that climb but there was a gentleman in his seventies in our group who did not show any sign of stress in the climb. Most of us agreed that the hotel rooms were both clean and comfortable and the meals were good. As a matter of fact the hotel room we stayed in at Jiuxiang was equivalent to that of a 5 star hotel. Toilet facilities in the parks and gardens and in some restaurants where we had our meals, however, left much to be desired and in quite a number of places we could smell the toilets before we came to them, unlike in the big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. For one of the dinners we were taken to a farm-house where the farmer's family prepared the dishes for us. To reach the farm-house we had to trek through a field strewn with cow dung. Not a pleasant sight to behold prior to a meal! Visits to see the minority ethnic groups and to witness their dances were both interesting and educational. In all, the Yunnan Special Tour was well worth the money spent if we remember that it is not fair to compare rural environment with that of the cities. Most people are still apprehensive to take on a China tour because of the horror stories they have heard about the poor toilet facilities but apart from the fact that one should not expect toilets in the rural areas to be comparable to those in 5 star hotels, the necessity to hold an open umbrella, as the story goes, while you are doing your business of answering nature's call does not arise. In 1993 when we first went on a very extensive tour, 14 days in all, of China the hotels were already first class, some even more beautiful than the ones we have in Kuala Lumpur. For scenic beauty it is our opinion that no country, not even the European countries, can beat China.