I have a thing about trees - especially those ancient, majestic-looking ones...
And yet, ironically - no matter how much affections I have for trees, I can never plant or take care of them. One time, a friend gave me a cactus as a gift, and it died in my care - a CACTUS!
Hence, I keep my relationship with trees to just admiring them from afar. When cameras became more affordable commodities, I took to taking photographs of trees, usually with the blue sky as the backdrop.
So, spending time at the Lake Gardens in Taiping was a real treat. All the lush, foliage - bursts of green over the blue-black Bukit Larut (previously known as Maxwell Hill) in the background. A total change from my normal concrete jungle scenery.
Taiping Lake Gardens was opened in 1880, making it the first public garden in Malaysia. Chung Thye Pin donated the land, that was initially an abandoned tin mine, to be turned into a recreation park.
There are ten man made lakes and ponds at the park. But the main attraction would be the row of ancient Angsana (in English: Golden Rain) trees, standing tall and majestic along the Residency road.
As we walked along the road, we were greeted by these beautiful Angsana trees - their branches stretching over to the other side of the road touching the lake.
In Malaysia, where it is consistently sunny and hot - finding a shaded area outdoors, where you can just sit and talk, is not an easy thing. So it was a real change to have the Angsana trees over us, providing enough shade to sit down comfortably on the grass - reading our books, lulled by the sound of nature.
I'm going to stop talking now, and let you absorb the beauty of these majestic Angsana for yourself...
When I was a kid, we moved a lot - 10 times to be exact! Melaka (In English: Malacca) was one of the states that we stayed in. At thirteen, my family moved to Kuala Lumpur (KL).
When we have our own cars, Melaka becomes the annual road trip agenda for my friends and I. Mainly because, it is only about 2 hours drive from KL. I've been going back there countless times on short, mostly unplanned road trips - Christmas Day breaks, my birthday, bringing friends from overseas day, etc.
But to be honest, in all those times I was in Melaka, I had never set foot in Kampung Morten. So this time around, we decided to visit the place.
So, what place is Kampung Morten anyway?
Kampung Morten is a riverine village located by the Melaka River. "Kampung" is the Malay word for "village". According to Wikipedia, Morten is the name of the British official who was responsible for the setting up of the village.
Kampung Morten has been gazetted as one of Malaysia's national heritage sites. What's interesting is that it is a village located amidst the busy Melaka city (the capital of Melaka). And, the small village is made up of houses built in the traditional Melaka Malay house style.
To be honest, I would say that Kampung Morten - is more of a living museum than a typical Malay village. This means that you will not be able to see much of the typical lifestyle/activities that takes place in a village (like agricultural or fishing activities), at Kampung Morten.
Nonetheless, you will definitely be impressed by the beauty of the well-preserved wooden houses. To keep up with the spirit of the historical city, the houses are each painted with a different color - mint green, bright yellow, brown, pale blue, etc.
Melaka has a long history of diverse cultures, customs and influences - Dutch, Portuguese, English - to name a few.
So it is not a surprise to see the decorations on the concrete steps of a traditional Malay house echoing the decorations on the walls and floors of the Straits Chinese houses. And it is not a shocking thing to see the design of windows of a Straits Chinese house looking very similar to that of a Malay house.
The traditional Malay house architectural style vary from one state to another. But, one thing they all have in common is that back in the day, the houses were built to stand on stilts or wooden posts. This was to protect the household against wild animals and floods, as well as to support ventilation.
Due to this design, all Malay houses would have steps leading up to the anjung or porch. And while we're on the subject, the typical Melaka house would normally stand on 12 to 16 stilts.
The one thing that has always fascinated me about the Melaka houses, which is also coincidentally its very distinct signature is their "tangga batu" or "concrete steps".
Unlike the other traditional Malay houses, the steps of a Melaka house are usually painted in bright colors, and decorated with intricate patterns made up of colorful tiles (often with floral motifs).
So, if you are ever in Melaka, take a stroll to Kampung Morten. Probably, like me, you will not mind exploring the exterior of one house to another - studying the beautifully crafted windows and their decorations, And of course, admiring the beautiful tangga batu as you accept the host's invitation to step into the house.
August 31st, 2013.
It was the Independence Day weekend in Malaysia. And, I took the flight back home from Penang. It was the last flight, I think. The plane had just touched down at Subang Skypark Airport. It was kinda late already, almost 11pm.
My brother, his wife and kids were waiting in the car, just outside of the Arrival Hall. I waited for my bag and quickly made my way out. I didn't want to keep them waiting.
I pulled my luggage bag by the handle and walked quickly through the walkway. My other hand held my mobile phone. It was pretty quiet, most folks were still at the baggage line, collecting their stuff.
In a short distant away, I saw a fair and very tall, well-built, Caucasian male walking or rather striding towards my direction.
My heart skipped a beat.
I knew he was filming the movie "Blackhat" at Skypark earlier, but could it be that he is still around?
"...Could it be?"
My more logical self took over - "Calm down, and whatever you do...don't shriek or say OMG, or anything to that effect...you hear me??"
After a few moments, we were facing each other. He had his sunglasses on. And is he tall!
"Hi Chris...!" I said and smiled my bestest smile.
He stopped in his stride, turned his body slightly to face me fully. Obviously, he had to look down because he is that tall, and I am that short...
He took off his sunglasses. He gave me the most beautiful smile I would ever remember - a demi-god's smile.
"Hi! How are you?" He said.
Staring upwards at his beautiful face, and his very very blue eyes, I said - "I'm good, thank you..."
He was so close and looked ever so relaxed and willing to grant not just one, but even ten selfies with me!
And yet, I continued to walk away leaving him, while his crew stood looking at me. Thor made me forget.
Chris Hemsworth and his crew would probably at that moment thought that I was one weird lady. No photo request, and I was holding my mobile phone in my hand.
My sister aptly concluded this heart-breaking episode - "I think you're the first woman who has ever dissed Thor..."
T'was a fine and sunny Christmas day.
Three friends decided to spend the afternoon at the Suffolk House, in the manner of socialites ~ with no cares in the world.
The rule was - we must look our best, wear something pretty and feminine, must put on high heels and we must not talk-shop! The talk-shop bit was an important rule, considering we work at the same place (at that point of time). The dressing up bit was equally important, a good change from the boring t-shirt and jeans routine, our comfy workplace attire...
We chose the Suffolk House mostly for its ambience. The Anglo-Indian architecture set the tone for our "English Tea Party". The Suffolk House are actually two buildings that used to be the residence of Captain Francis Light, the founder of the British settlement in Penang, Malaysia.
The tea party area was cozy, not in the building but outside at the patio. The day was sunny and breezy. From where we sat, we got a wonderful view of the compound, lush and green with old, majestic trees, possibly from days past.
The interior design is somewhat nostalgic and quaint, with vintage Christmas ornaments dangling and twirling slowly from the small deco trees. We sat accompanied by other groups, and families, all looking their best.
Having English tea with sandwiches, tarts, scones and pudding; and waited upon by a server in the manner of a butler, just helped to complete our pretense at being ladies-of-leisure for the few hours we were there.
A cemetery is a strange place to visit on a road trip with your girlfriends. But, I am glad that it was one of the places we chose to visit in Taiping. It was a short stop - yet, poignant and humbling.
The hotel we stayed in is located at the foot of Bukit Larut, also known as Maxwell Hill, its name in the old days. From the main road, we need to make a right turn to go to the hotel. And just by the road side, on the left, is where the War Cemetery is. So, we would see the cemetery every time we leave or come back to the hotel. It soon became a curiosity.
I did wonder why is there a war cemetery in Taiping?
During WWII, Taiping was the home to a battalion of the Indian Army Infantry of the British armed services, a part of the Allied forces. With the impending Japanese occupation, the small town became the line of retreat on the west coast of the Malay Peninsular, a sort of transit point for re-fitment purposes, before troops moved southwards to Singapore.
The war cemetery was erected and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The cemetery is well kept, tidy and has an air of tranquility about it - a reflection of respect and gratitude to the war heroes.
The cemetery is made up of two burial grounds separated by a small road. On one side of the road is the Christian burial plot, while the non-Christian soldiers were laid to rest in the other burial ground, across the road. In addition to the WWII casualties, the cemetery is also the resting place for army personnels who were killed prior to the Malayan Insurgency.
The non-Christian burial plot is identified by the Stone of Remembrance, inscribed with the line "Their Name Liveth For Evermore". Looking at the tombstones, I saw Muslim and Indian names as well as names written in what I thought was Tamil or Urdu. I found out later, that those were the tombstones for the Gurkha soldiers.
Over on the other side of the road, at the Christian burial plot, a Cross of Sacrifice stands tall. This is where the British and Australian servicemen were laid to rest. For those who were identified, their tombstone display their regimental crests.
All in all, 850 soldiers had been interred at the Taiping War Cemetery. But, only 329 of the casualties had been identified. For the rest of them who were unidentified (more than 500 soldiers), their tombstones were inscribed with the famous phrase from Kipling - "Known Unto God", which means, "unknown, with exception to God".
It was a poignant visit for us. These men were somebody's father, son and brother. Most of the men were barely in their '20s, and most of them were unidentified. One wonder if the folks who were waiting back home for them, had ever had their closure.
It is humbling to know that if it were not for them, we would live in a whole different world today.
It is ironic to think that a place that felt so tranquil, is a product of a destructive event, a product of a war.
15 glorious days in the sun, in the rain. 15 days of getting to know my country with you.
Traversing busy cities, calm villages and the countryside. Resting by beautiful beaches and waterfalls. Getting soaked in weeping rain forests. Exploring old, sleepy towns with histories older than both our ages combined. Driving in circles and losing our way through small one way streets.
The next time we meet, would we still be the same two?
The first thing you'd need to do when visiting Penang's Little India a.k.a Market Street, is simply stand at its T-junction. Standing by the narrow street, do be mindful of drivers looking for parking spots and speeding beca (trishaws)...
Take a few minutes to soak in the somewhat chaotic blends of sights, sounds and smells - that is, the life of the place!
You will see many saree shops, with a whole range of colorful, glittery sarees draped over slender mannequins, the silhouettes of Kareen Kapoor. You will also see assorted displays of kurtis and salwar kameezs.
Amid the honking and busy motorists maneuvering the narrow streets, you will not miss the Tamil songs (most of the time), both religious and pop, blaring in the background - advertisements for the DVD shops. Over at the shops, you will see posters of newly-released movies from India. And shop assistants enticing you to enter, with their latest copies of something Bollywood, and Tollywood.
Finally, there are always that smell of spices, delicious smell of food from the many eateries, as well as the aromatic smell of incense lingering in mid air, long after the morning prayers were done.
I love airports. Well, most of them, anyway. I would tell you about the few airports that I hate. But that would be a whole different story from this.
One thing is for sure, I like Penang International Airport (PIA). I don't like it because it is newly renovated and upgraded. Nor do I like it because of the services available there.
I like PIA because it has become a familiar transit point, having lived in Penang these last three years. Familiar because of my monthly commutes back to Kuala Lumpur (KL), and numerous visits there to help send off or pick up fellow commuters to and from KL.
These days, I like PIA even more because of Kaffa Espresso Bar.
The first place you see as you drive up to the Departure Wing, Kaffa is my new favorite cafe, my hideout. With my laptop and an unfinished travel anecdote, I imagine that I am in some cozy, vintage cafe tucked somewhere in Paris. Talk about being highly imaginative! :P
If you prefer coffee to soda hands down every time, or if you are a sucker for vintage interior designs, or if you're an old soul, and your dad kept telling you that you were born in the wrong era because of your strange music choice, or even if you are just someone who hates walking in the hot tropical sun, you will like Kaffa.
Let me tell you why in 6 nouns and many adjectives:
Coffee - delicious Salted Caramel Macchiato (hot/cold) - sweet and salty at the same time!
Ambiance - snug, comfy window seats, quaint - with vintage furniture, pinball machines!
Patron parking - right in front of the cafe, and free!
Service - prompt, attentive, friendly...did i say prompt??
Price - Starbucks-like price - none of those overpriced-bcoz-im-in-the-airport charges!
Location - convenient, easy access - without having to drive all the way out to town...
So, will you Kaffa? ;-))
Kintamani was breathtaking.
We stood at the edge of the viewing spot in Penelokan, breathing in the fresh air. In the distance, Gunung Batur, an active volcano, stood majestic in green. Along the hill side, we saw remnants of the previous volcanic eruptions in the forms of burnt lava fields.
The whole view was indeed spectacular. Clear, blue skies and temperate weather. Danau Batur, the crater lake, looked calm and serene from where we stood.
I read somewhere that Penelokan means "a place for viewing" in the Indonesian language. From where we stood, everything looked picture-perfect. And being the tourists that we were, no scene was left without a photo shoot or two. Dhana, our driver, doubled as the photographer.
The peddlers started moving in on us after a few minutes. Dhana called them notty peddlers. In the car, before we got down, he said, "Be careful of the notty peddlers..." I guess "notty" here meant "naughty".
There were easily 5 or 6 of them surrounding us at the same time. They offered fruits, souvenirs, postcards, bangles, sandals, etc. Most of them were adults.
Then, a girl walked to us with her merchandise. She was possibly about 10 years old or so. She was pretty and camera-shy, or maybe she just didn't want a bunch of tourists taking her picture.
My friend was interested to get some postcards from the girl, but her sign of interest only brought more peddlers to us. Looking back, we would have bought some postcards and bangles from the little peddler girl, if it weren't for the rest of them who kept harassing us, to the point that we had to run back to the rented car, just to get away...
Nonetheless, Kintamani was breathtaking.
I came across an article that I found wickedly funny and shocking at the same time. Tips for Your First Walk Down the Las Vegas Strip, by Larry Poupard - where a "Las Vegas regular" offers tips and advice for the "Las Vegas virgins" experiencing the Las Vegas Strip for the first time.
"I have walked down the Las Vegas Strip in the past with, "Las Vegas Virgins," and witnessed them struggle with overwhelming emotions that they were not prepared to face. I have seen them freeze in shock, throw up, be enthralled with exuberance and excitement, faint, and cry like a baby..."
Well, I was a "Las Vegas Virgin" when I visited the city in 2012. Fortunately for me, I did not freeze in shock, throw up, faint nor did I cry like a baby upon seeing the Strip for the first time. No credits to me, I was just probably jaded by years of watching CSI on TV! Nonetheless, I did feel a sense of rush standing there on the Strip, with everything else just swirled around me.
The Las Vegas Strip is not a place that sleeps, period. In fact, it buzzes around the clock with people walking up and down, from one hotel to another. Their destination would be either the casinos or to see one of the hundreds of attractions available. I would certainly recommend one of Cirque du Soleil's shows, or if you are on a tight budget, the complementary Bellagio's Fountain show.
One sure thing, the Strip is only fully awake after sun down. And, you will only understand truly the "overwhelming emotions" mentioned by Poupard once you have experienced the Strip at night.
Overwhelming emotions, a result of sensory overload - I think that was how he put it.
At night, every hotel, resort, club and bar would barrage your senses with their huge, bright marquees and bill boards. To me, the whole Strip was like a never-ending carnival with flashing, bright lights from Mandalay Bay right up to Treasure Island. As you move along the Strip, do not be shocked with the smell of alcohol everywhere, on top of the cigarette smoke, perfume and sweat, all mixed together. And of course, vomit and urine stench occasionally.
Walking along the Strip, I noticed men and women handing out call cards every 5 steps or so. After a while, I just learnt to ignore them. An eye contact made means being handed a card showing scantily clad women in provocative poses, regardless if you are male or female.
Holding a conversation along the Strip proved to be quite a challenge. It just get drowned in the loud music blaring from the clubs and bars. This and the constant traffic.
But honestly, who needs a conversation, when you are too busy soaking in the whole new mind-blowing sights: a 26-seater limo for instance, or the city of Paris with its Eiffel Tower, right smack in Nevada. And if you are lucky (or unlucky- depends on how you look at it), you would probably witness a real police arrest made on the street!
At the end of it all and as cliche as it sounds, the Las Vegas Strip is a sight to behold! Expect the unexpected, go with an open mind and you will survive your first walk on the Strip and live to tell the tale...