Saturday, May 30, 2009


Mama dove hatching her egg.
Egg sitting precariously on the window's edge
Papa dove building the nest.
GismoMan "spotted" this Spotted Dove husband and wife team building a nest on our bathroom window ledge. He came waving and whispering to me early this morning - I thought he had seen our resident rat again. The Spotted Doves are the commonest of all open country pigeons here and have moved into villages, parks and gardens with the widespread clearance of forests. It builds a flimsy nest and that's what the couple were doing all morning. The mama was sitting on her egg while the papa kept bringing back twigs for the nest. They made this lovely sound "croo-croo-croo" as they worked. We took these few pictures and left them alone to carry out nature's duties. We don't quite know what to do as the egg is sitting so precariously on the ledge. If we moved the egg to a safer place, the doves may not find it again or they may not want it. We decided to leave the egg where it is and just watch the progress.
Both parents busily arranging twigs and making a nest around the egg.
Opps, please don't say anything about the really thick layer of dust on the glass. The rest of the house is not like that! The window opens outwards and it is almost impossible to clean from the inside without climbing onto the roof. OK, you could probably do an art masterpiece drawing on the dust but maybe it was the dust that attracted the doves to build a nest there. It looked so back to nature!!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dumplings In Memory Of A Poet

It is that time of the year again when we can buy different types of "bak chang" as the festival is celebrated today 28th of May, the fifth day of the fifth moon. "Bak chang" or rice dumplings are glutinous rice parcels wrapped tightly in bamboo leaves, tied and cooked in boiling water for at least 2 hours. It is quite a laborious task. What goes into the dumplings depends on who is making it. The Nyonya (decendents from immigrant Chinese who had adopted Malay attire and food but not the religion) use mushrooms, raddish, soy bean paste and colour the dumplings blue. OK, it sounds weird eating blue dumplings but you won't regret it.

Picture by C. Jason

The Hokkien (immigrants from Southern Fujian in China) include beans, chestnuts, mushrooms, chicken or pork and salted eggs. Salted eggs are usually duck eggs mixed with salt and left to mature till the eggs develop a salty flavour. These dumplings are brown as thick dark soy sauce is used as seasoning. My neighbour who is a fantastic cook sent some over and below is what it looked like before I attacked it. Dumplings are really delicious but the glutinous rice sits in your stomach and takes a long time to digest. We don't usually eat them at night or we will end up tossing and turning in bed.

The "Bak Chang" festival is celebrated as an annual tradition in honour of China's ancient poet and statesman, Qu Yuan (340 - 278 BC). He commited suicide by drowning in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth moon after the fall of the Chu kingdom to General Bai Qi in 278 BC . A number or reasons were given for what he did - as an act of grief when his country was taken by invaders, as a protest and shame to the corrupt government of which he was Deputy Prime Minister or he had fallen out of favour with the King. The people who greatly loved and admired him threw dumplings into the river to stop fishes from eating his body.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hey, where's my bitter gourd!

My bitter gourd in the sun.

Life is full of surprises. Last week I proudly wrote about my attempts in vegetable gardening - feeble attempts I would say judging by the size of my produce. The next morning, my precious bitter gourd went missing. The two smaller ones higher on the fence were still hanging on for their dear lives but the larger bottom gourd was gone. I live in a community where we take along plastic bags when we walk our dogs to make sure we do not leave any "accidents" behind. So, we definitely do not take punny gourds without permission. I can figure out a few answers to the disappearing gourd:

  1. It fell off cos' it was ready to be plucked.
  2. A rat climbed up the fence and ran away with it.
  3. A squirril took it home for dinner.
  4. A kid just plucked it for fun.
  5. Moon light shrinks bitter gourds to undetectable sizes.
GismoMan says, "Who wants your bitter gourd? 1. it's bitter ; 2. it's a waste of effort cooking cos it would have taken more time to clean, cut and cook than eat it." I do think he has a point.

Anyway, there are more pressing issues to worry about. When I got home from work yesterday, MartianGirl came screaming, "There is a "buaya" (crocodile) in the garden." We live miles away from rivers and the nearest crocodiles are basking in the zoo. But, I had to go pretend and look out for it. It was probably a large monitor lizard - they can grow up to 3 feet. I have seen 6 feet ones in the wet lands. They are carnivores and live on small animals. They look quite clumsy with their large bodies and short legs, but they are fast. MartianGirl was five years when we visited Kuala Selangor, a town on the outskirts of the city with parks and wetlands. She had wandered off about 6 feet away from me and a really hugh monitor lizard came up from the pond and fested its eyes on what he probably considered was lunch. MartianGirl wanted to make friends, "Cicak, cicak." It was terrifying, I just ran, grabbed her and fled in the opposite direction. A "cicak" is a harmless house lizard, similar to a gecko, that feeds on insects and runs up and down the walls of our homes. The monitor lizard that wanted MartianGirl was truely as large as the one in the pix below.

"Cicak" (house lizard) - pix from internet source

Malaysian monitor lizard - pix from internet source

This morning, GismoMan announces, "I saw a rat in the kitchen last night and it was as large as a cat." Prone to exaggerations, I would say it was as little as a kitten. But I hate rats and they are the only animals that will actually make me jump up a chair and go hysterical, typically as shown in movies. I have gone after a snake and fierce dogs but I cannot handle rats. So, I had to put out the Rat Bait in the cupboards and made very sure that Daemon K9 could not get to them. But no rat as yet.

This is what I call excitment in the city. I can't imagine living on a farm where a lot more surprises can happen in one day. I would't be able to cope.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Delay coming home if you feel unwell"

A little "bug" million times smaller than a pin prick has created havoc in the world today. As of yesterday 21 May, 41 countries have officially reported 11,034 infected cases with 85 deaths. US has reported 5,710 confirmed and probable cases in 48 states with 8 deaths, and UK with 109 cases and no deaths. The Influenza A (H1N1) virus officially arrived in my country, Malaysia, on board MAS Flight MH 091 from Newark, New Jersey on 13th May. A Malaysian student returning home for his summer break was infected and the second confirmed case was his friend on board the same flight. Today, our Health Minister advised Malaysian students in US to stay back for a while if they experience any flu symptoms. Pretty sound advice to keep the virus away but pretty unfair to the students.
When I was studying abroad, I missed home so much - my family, my dog, the food and just the feeling of security. I only came home once in the 7 years I was away due to financial reasons but home was always on my mind. My parents must have missed me more cos' before I left my mum said, "We will always have the altar lighted until you come home." The "light" was a glass bowl with oil and a lighted wick. The wick was kept lighted 24 hours a day for all those 7 years. How do I know? Becos' my brothers wrote to me frequently, "Hurry up, we are very tired of keeping the wick lighted." I don't think my parents did that to ensure I would top the class (cos I didn't) or become a Nobel Prize Laureate (not in this life time). They just kept the flame to pray for me to be safe. Isn't that what we want most for our children?

What is this "bug" that will delay our kids from coming home. The Influenza A (H1N1) virus belongs to a group called the orthomyxoviruses. "Myxo" refers to viruses that infect the mucus membranes. The orthomyxoviruses comprise of 3 types - Influenza A, B and C. While Influenza B and C viruses mainly infect man, Influenza A can infect both man and animals. This allows Influenza A viruses to cause pandemics - a situation where a disease crosses national bounderies - like what is happening now.

The viruses are spherical and covered by an envelope from where spikes or surface proteins -haemagglutinins (H) and neuraminidase (N) - project out. Influenza viruses are able to change their antigens and result in different serotypes - H1N1 caused the Spanish Influenza (1918), H2N2 the Asian Influenza (1957) and H3N2 the Hong Kong Influenza (1968).

  • Pictures taken from the Internet

    Spread? Influenza A (H1N1) is not transmitted via food. Virus is spread through aerosols from sneezing and coughing or by contact with the virus and then touching the nose or mouth.
    Prevention? By avoiding crowded places and good hygiene practice. The virus is rapidly "killed" by detergents and soaps, thus frequent hand washing will control the spread.
    Vaccine? At the moment there is NO vaccine for the nfluenza A (H1N1) virus. The only vaccines available offer no protection against the current "bug" as they will only protect against the human seasonal influenza viruses.
    Research at the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, US) report that the current Influenza A (H1N1) virus is a genetic recombination of 4 different influenza viruses:
  • Human influenza gene segments
  • Swine influenza from North America
  • Swine influenza from Euroasia
  • Avian gene segments from North America

A new strain with no immunity in humans, this is why the fatality rate is much higher compared with other flu outbreaks. The good news is that the current fatality rate of less than 1% shows that the virus is not as powerful as intiallly predicted. There are 5,400 Malaysians studying in the US, I hope they will come home safely.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Brinjal or egg plant in my tiny vegetable plot.
Bitter gourds on the fence.
Vegetables in the market were getting quite expensive since last year so I decided to plant some of my own. I have a really tiny piece of land ( don't even know if I can say that, maybe a tiny space will be more appropriate) in the back of the house. I started with digging out the stones and mixing the hard clay soil with bags of potting mixture and vegetable waste. I actually had to go buy and PAY for organic fertiliser - processed chicken and goat "poo" pellets. Does this strike an idea for anyone to venture into an export business to Malaysia? Ohh...the dried pellets were OK but once they got wet, they looked exactly like how chicken and goat "poo" should look like. I am a city girl, was I suppose to know that? I got more potting mix to cover the mess.

My better half, seeing my enthusiasm in the vegetable plot, gave me an assortment of gardening tools for our wedding anniversary. I was thinking of something a little bit more romantic for our 19th anniversary, instead I got a spading fork, shears, weeder, gloves and packets of seeds. GismoMan, being the expert in gadgets and not gardening, bought seeds for peas, capsicum, carrots and salad, stuff which I think are not going to make it in this really hot 30 - 35 C temperature. Surprisingly, the peas have sprouted but the rest are having much difficulty germinating.

Every day I am out there watering, digging and mixing the soil. It's a really cheap way to get off the excess pounds cos' its a sauna out there even in the evenings. Now that the beans and gourds are growing, the pests are enjoying the fruits of my labour. Chemicals are a definite "No, No" and GismoMan suggested using ginger, chilli or tumeric mixed in water as natural pesticides (something he read). The chilli made my hands all hot and swollen, the tumeric stained them a yellow as bright as the monks' robes and I got a back ache bent over pounding ginger for juice. Does anyone know a simpler form of natural fertiliser?

I shouldn't complain as I have already start eating my own produce. But, the salad leaves are slightly bitter, not sweet like the ones from the supermarket, the brinjals are puny and the okra so fibrous, MartianGirl just kept chewing at the dinner table until the rubber bands in her braces snapped. GismoMan was very supportive, "Maybe you should not mix the bitter gourds with the other vegetables, the bitterness probably gets transfered."

Something's not quite right but I will not admit defeat. We Asians have this saying, "Never say die." My tomatoes and peas should be fruiting in about a month and then, there will be another story.

Pea, salad, chillie and tomato seedlings.
Four-angle beans.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Road into my township - the mad rush of traffic to the city lies just beyond.
Double storey terrace houses line the inner roads.
Plenty of trees planted 7 year ago by the developers.
Kids are out on their bikes by 6 pm - note the setting sun.
Its shorts and T-shirts everyday.
When I read the blogs I have been following, I am a bit envious of the acres of land. There is just miles of greenary with creeks and rivers in your photos and I just wonder what it's like to wake up, go out the front door and see all that space. Breath-taking must be the only word for it.

I live in a township about 20 km from the city. The houses are a mixture of terrace and semi-Ds (semi-detached where 2 houses are connected by one wall). There isn't acres of land, we measure our land in square feet. If I walk 9 normal human paces to the left of my house, I already hit my neighbour's wall. We share roads, drains and playgrounds.
Us mothers having our evening exercise. In the evenings, the boys ride from house to house.
MartianGirl and her Great Escape - Martians never use gates.

Living in a community with so many neighbours has many benefits. The kids meet at each others home or at the playground every evening. MartianGirl makes her get away at 5 pm and does not return till 7 at night. Many times I have caught her sneaking out by 4 pm even before her homework is finished. During the weekends, she is out by 3pm. She is quite safe wandering around, as we look out for each other's kids and pets. I have rescused Crystal, a top poodle, from the fish pond when the kids were too engrossed playing, and settled squabbles in the playground. The kids get fed with cakes, buns, fruits, chocolate, ice cream and what ever else is available in the different homes. I have chips on standby for the forever hungry troops. It is amazing how fast they drop in, wish a polite "Hello Aunty," grab some food or a cold drink and their skinny legs are rushing out the gate. At 7 pm, all mothers "chase" the kids home for their dinner and homework - it's an unwritten rule. Life here seems very different from the farm.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Netball Championship - Datin Nik Fara Shalvane Trophy
Resting in-between games
Shoot it in
Supporters including baby - note cutie under umbrella
Who says you don't do the splits in netball
Almost there
Any excuse for a picnic
Ambulance on stand-by
I got you covered
Thanks for the game
The "CHAMPS" at half-time
Shot these photos during the Datin Nik Fara Shalvane Trophy Netball Championship. The championship was sponsored by the UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) Selayang Branch. The temperature must have been around 30 C at noon, I was sun burnt just taking the photos. The girls have been competing since 8 am and they were still not finished. The picnic baskets were all over the field, families and supporters were having a ball of a time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Breakfast from the kerb

Pak Cik (Uncle) gets his stall ready by 7 am. He is meticulous laying out the pink table cloths. A large variety of dishes are available - from noodles, rice, chicken to kuih (Malay cakes).
His customers are mainly students from colleges, schools and people just driving past on their way to work, note his large red tub of warm freshly cooked rice.

Motor-cyclists will stop when they know the food is good. It's a Help-Yourself service.
Breakfast for most Malaysians isn't quite the same as in the West with cereal, fruit, toast or eggs. We kind of love our rice and noodles and we like it hot with lots of chilli. Just as many Westerners have breakfast on the run, we have adapted our lives to start each day fed and happy. We get our complete breakfast from the many stalls that "mushroom" from the kerb in the mornings. Under tress and umbrellas, entreprising housewives and the men too set up their "instant stall" early to catch the school, college and office crowd and "close shop" by mid morning to return home to take care of their families. These "instant stalls" do supplement family incomes as the owners can make between RM70 - RM 200 a morning.
Another stall under a shady tree by the kerb, note the car parked just next to the stall for easy transport of good and equipment.
Food is feshly cooked very early in the morning.Puan Normah sells "Nasi lemak" - rice in coconut milk, fried anchovies, boiled or fried egg, cucumber slices, roasted peanuts, chicken and "sambal ikan bilis" (anchovy chilli paste).
My breakfast all wrapped up in grease-proof paper.
All of this for RM 4.00 (US $1.11 cents), what a great way to start the day. I can't vouch for high work efficiency after breakfast, all the blood gets drained from my brain to digest this. Yawn...wake me up for lunch and don't tell the Bozz!