Title: Trip to Penang

I drove down early today (started at 4.30 am) but left KL only at 6.00 am. Headed into the North-South Highway via LDP. The road was clear, the mist was thick and my car was steadily chugging an average of 150 km/h northwards towards the Pearl of the Orient.

Hmm…the “Pearl of the Orient”? Of late, one sees less and less of that term being used for Penang. I wasn’t expecting much from the trip as it was quite a rush trip with us spending only 2 nights and 3 days in Sunway Hotel. The reason why me and my family went down there was because…well, just because.

We reached Penang in slighly under 4 hours (including a 30 minutes stop along one of the fine R&Rs). The thing that drive me nuts was that Penang drivers are slow. They would drive their vehicles below the speed limit and the road boundary lines mean nothing to them. It was as if the lines were there because Penangites didn’t want their roads, with gravel and tar, to sport an ubiquitous dull black look. So they painted in some lines and they have a secret conspiracy among Penangites to ignore them. For instance, consider the following situation:-

a) Motorcyclist is at my left side
b) He/She/It wants to turn right
c) He/She/It cuts in front of my car to turn right
d) Not wanting to kill him/her/it, I apply my ABS breaks and my tires screech to a halt
d) He/She/It gives you the “die-non-Penang-driver-die!” look

Besides that, Penang was good. The first thing that we did was to go for food. We went to Ayer Itam for the famous Asam Laksa stall only to be told that required another 10 minutes to be ready. Seeing that there are other stalls there as well, I finished off a bowl of Hokkien Mee. Hmm…heaven. Patiently, I went back to Asam Laksa stall and waited the remainder of the 7 minutes. When they were ready, I ordered one first, having in mind to get 2 more bowls later. When it arrived, the Asam Laksa didn’t taste as good as my memory can recall. In fact, it was rather bad. If you like the taste of Mark’s Laksa in 1U, don’t even go for the Ayer Itam Asam Laksa at all. Compared to Mark’s, it was bland, watery and frankly, quite tasteless.

Immediately after lunch, it was apparent that my mother wanted to do some shopping. She has this fixation with brooms that are sold in a particular sundry shop in Ayer Itam. If I had a bigger car, she would have purchased 10 instead of the 5 that she got.

Next, we checked into Sunway Hotel.

Now, I must say this:- if you like Penang food (as much as I do) then for your next trip to Penang, you should check into this hotel. The smorgasbord of Penang hawker food along the road is incredible! From Hokkien Mee to authentic Curry Mee (the one with the white soup and chili oil), from Char Kway Tiow (with crab meat) to Char Kway Kuk, from Pig parts porridge to Almond tea, this is the place to be!

So, total count for the day:- 1 Hokkien Mee, 1 Asam Laksa, 2 Curry Mee, 1 Char Kway Teow, 1 Almond Tea, 1 Leng Chi Kang, 2 Lor Baks, 1 Oh Chean, 1 Hum Chin Peng….hehehe!

Free Culture

Lawrence Lessig’s latest book “Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity” isn’t only free, it is a subversive exercise to see how far we can go in terms of intellectual property protection.
Go to his website http://www.free-culture.cc to download a free electronic version of his book or, my favorite, download a “remix”. In theRemixes section, the book is available in multiple formats, translation and, yes, even in MP3 audio book format. On top of that, if you want to own a hard copy of the book, you can buy it from Amazon or your nearest bookstore.

This means that Lessig is losing a portion of his book revenue because people would freely get his book in other formats (PDF, mp3, txt, etc) which is well and fine with him. What’s important is not the revenue from the sale of the book (though that might be a lot) but proving a point that as people share ideas freely, the basic ideas can be built upon by other people and improved.

What better way to prove this than to quote a real-life example of what happened not long after the book has been launched. A few people got together and decided to record the book into an audio book. They organized themselves through the internet and the unpaid volunteers divided the chapters of the book among themselves and went wild with their notebook or computer microphones. The result of that was an audio recording of the book that took less 24 hours to complete! To make matters even more interesting, another group, wanting the the audio book to sound more “professional” decided to do another recording! And all this, without the need of a written consent from the author.

(Of course, if the producers of the amateur audio books were to sell their “performance”, they would be prohibited due to restrictions of the license that Lessig has applied to his work).

If you have come to my site often, you would have noticed a Creative Commons logo on my page. Click on it and read the licence. The license covering my work in this blog is a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0 license. This means that I, as the creator of the content within this site, allow you, the reader, to use and create derivatives of my content freely as long as you do not try to make money out of it.

In the old days, works are preserved as scrolls, books, records, tapes, etc. This physical method stores informations as atoms, whether it is the atoms that make the molecules in inks or atoms that align themselves to a magnetic orientation in tape. These atoms can be scrambled (by rearranging, thus destroying them) and information will be lost forever. In this digital age, however, information are stored as bits. Information as bits are what digital discs (though not the form but the information contained within the form) and the Internet are all about. Therefore, information cannot be easily destroyed because they are easily stored, replicated, copied and manipulated.

Lessig believes that as corporations clamp down on copyright, works that are not commercially viable will not be made available anymore. The cost of imprinting information physically is costly and atoms are scarce- try to get a copy of a rare book and you’ll get the picture. Therefore, a large part of unprofitable body of knowledge is lost forever. With a Creative Commons, people like me hope that our work will not be locked into rigid intellectual property protection and will be available freely.

Charlize Meets C.H.R.I.S.T.

Charlize didn’t know what to expect when the Man from C.H.R.I.S.T. arrived at her Sydney home one fine winter morning. She heard the familiar ring from her door bell and she sleepily walked to the front door to open it. She half expected Terrence or somebody else but what she saw was a Man in dark long coat sporting a similarly colored fedora, quite atypical of the latest Sydney fashion, standing patiently in front of her house.

The Man reached into his pocket and dished out a card, turned upright so that Charlize could clearly see it from where she stood. It read:-

‘The Man – Evangelist
Congregation of Holy and Reformed Individuals Seeking the Truth”

“Oh Christ!” Charlize muttered allowed once she realized who that person was. She had heard of this group and had tried in vain to avoid them. This time, however, it seemed that the Man had caught up with her.

“Actually, Man will do,” the Man replied sheepishly, “I’m not divine, you know.”

“What do you want?” she asked as she rubbed her eyes, trying to have a good look at the fashionably impaired individual.

“I would like to ask,” he said animatedly, “if you have an intimate relationship with God?”

“Huh?” Charlize said, eyeing one of the many elephant-on-mouse statues that she had around her house. The Man followed her gaze towards those statues and he regrettably shook his head.

“Tsk. Tsk. Tsk,” he said through a pained voice, “There is no salvation you if you worship false idols and do not accept C.H.R.I.S.T.”

“What do you want?” she said again, this time with more force. Charlize was getting a little irritated. Her morning routines had been rudely interrupted. An ideal morning such as that day would be well spent if she had the comfort of lying in bed for another hour, surfing the food channels on TV, chatting with Terrence and then- well, back to bed again.

“Actually, I am here to introduce you to C.H.R.I.S.T,” the Man said, as a smile exposing his white teeth formed when he let the last syllable of his sentence hanged in the air.

“Are you selling something? Whatever it is that you’re selling, I’m not interested,” Charlize said as she prepared to slam the door on the Man.

The Man quickly replied, “But if you could just give me 5 minutes, I could share something with you that may change your life and the lives of the people that you love!”

Charlize heard the part about love and she decided, for herself, to give this Man a few more moments to make his point. Else, she thought, it was back to bed with the Naked Chef.

Relieved that he had been given another opportunity, the Man removed his fedora, confidently adjusted his coat and began to speak in a hushed tone. “The secret is that God loves you. You see, he created the world, together with you and I and the wonderful creators around us. He blessed us with abundance and the faculty of thought and intelligence. But as we grow intellectually, so too did we grow apart from God. I’m here to tell you that by accepting C.H.R.I.S.T., we can bring you closer to God again. Never again will you be lonely and sad. With C.H.R.I.S.T. we can help you develop a personal relationship with God! –”

“What does that mean, personal relationship with God?” Charlize enquired. She had heard a lot about that from people who are embraced C.H.R.I.S.T. She wondered if the Man knew that she was imaging the words “personal relationship” to mean a direct toll free line to God, or maybe an instant messenger ID, or maybe even a God that lives in your spare closet so that you can let Him out once in a while to talk about your problems.

“It means that anytime you want, you can talk to God and God can work miracles for you through C.H.R.I.S.T. No more sacred texts, no more yogic exercises, no more worries,” the Man continued without missing a beat, obviously oblivious to the deliciously wicked thoughts that Charlize had running in her head on what she can do with a personal God.

The Man now looked at Charlize, realizing that it was now Decision Time, the crucial 30 seconds after the end of a sales pitch. This crucial moment in time, static and electrifying at the same time, determined if a person had bought the argument or that it was time to move on to another prospect.

Charlize was looking at the Man, trying to digest whatever he had said. There were a lot of truths in what the Man shared, she realized, truth that she had somethings thought that she had glimpsed as bright light during her meditation sessions. Truth about nature and about her place in the world. Truth that was —

— interrupted by the Man, now brandishing brochures and saying, in his best Shopping Network voice:- “And if you accept C.H.R.I.S.T. now and sign up for a one year membership, I’ll throw in this wonderful Saviour Doll that blinks in the night! Also, membership now entitles you to a free CD called, “Lower Than A Mountain, Higher Than A Mould Songs” jam packed with the latest evangelistic songs from–”

“ENOUGH!” Charlize screamed at the Man, who was shocked into silence.

The Man was still clutching on to a membership form, brochures, saviour dolls and audio CDs when Charlize continued calmly, “I’m was a pacifist Buddhist before you came here but now, I am convinced of what to do.”

“Pacifist? You said,” the Man mockingly asked. “That is so meek and weak. Our God will make you powerful so that you do not rely on mysticisms and rituals and all that rubbish.”

“Meek? Weak?” Charlize repeated, her temperature rising, “I sort of guess that you say something like that to me and my beliefs.”

“So you’ll join C.H.R.I.S.T. ?” the Man asked hopefully.

“Nope. I’ll start my own outfit. It’ll be called the Songs of the Himalayans and I’ll market it well and market it big. Then, we shall he who shall inherit the Earth!” Charlize said with a tinge of satisfaction. With a wave of her hand, she slammed the door shut and the Man from C.H.R.I.S.T was not seen in the neighborhood again.

(The names of the characters had been changed to protect me)

Jennifer’s Grandma

A phone call at 6.00 am woke me up this morning. It was Cheau Lin with news of her grandmother.

I recall with some amount of excitement when I first met Cheau Lin’s grandmother in Melaka. I’ve heard a lot about her from Cheau Lin and couldn’t wait to meet her. When I saw her, she struck me as someone who radiated an aura of kindness. Though she had a round and compassionate face, the drooping cheeks and heavy wrinkles bravely bore marks of hardship that she must have endured in her lifetime. She was the quintessential grandma that only a few lucky ones among us can testify to having and was a grandma that the majority of us wished we had.

During our first meeting, I was asked to shout whatever that I wanted to say to her because she had been deaf for quite sometime then. I suggested that Cheau Lin should get a hearing aid for her. I was then told that grandma had a hearing aid, but her vanity had put her off from using it in front of guess. She would made small talk but as she couldn’t hear my reply, our conversation was heavily one sided, mostly with her reminiscing about the good old days and complaining about growing old. It was a little odd to shout “AH MA! HO BO!” to a tiny old lady and I never gotten used to it.

As I visited her more often, she opened up and was less formal. Occasionally, I would observe her sitting in her favorite rattan chair, thinking of days long past. It was as if she was reliving them again in her head. And when she needed to move, she would use a special 4 legged walking cane that sported a front basket. The basket usually housed her handkerchief, an assortment of trinkets and packets of 555 cigarettes.

And how she would smoke those cigarettes!

She later moved to Shah Alam to stay in Cheau Lin’s brother’s house when she can be taken care of by Cheau Lin’s mom and sister-in-law. Around a year and a half ago, she suffered a stroke that left the left side of her body paralyzed. I rushed to the hospital to see her and even though she couldn’t speak coherently, she was grunting and pointing with her right hand. I saw her and I realized from her eyes that she recognized me. The doctors weren’t able to do much and suggested that the family brings her home.

She didn’t have the capability to chew solid food so liquid food, most of the time milk, would have to be pushed from a syringe down a tube that ran directed into her stomach. This must have caused tremendous discomfort and pain because she tried to pull it out ever so often. I was given packs of unopened 555s as she couldn’t smoke anymore. I tried lighting up a few sticks but it was like smoking needles that poked deep into my throat. I was thinking then that it took a tough lady to be able to smoke 2 packs of these everyday.

Her condition did not improve.

The last that I saw her alive was about a week and a half ago when I followed Cheau Lin to Shah Alam. Her once bubbly face was but a pale reflection of the image that still have with me when I first met her. Her muscles was wasted due to the lack of movement a result of being immobile for so long. She has also lost a tremendous amount of weight. When I called her and looked at her, blank eyes stared at me. It was too much to bear.

Earlier this week, I’ve heard from Cheau Lin that her grandmother had contracted pneumonia. Both she and I knew that the end would not be long and we told ourselves somehow, when the time comes, this would be a much wanted release from the months of pain she had endured.

Cheau Lin’s grandmother passed away this morning in her sleep and the world has lost a benevolent gentle soul.

John 14:1-3: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

Lizards and Rubberbands Reloaded

Rachel’s recent brush with death prompted me to write more about the hazards of the common house gecko.

11.30pm. With my eyes closed and my body totally drenched, I was lying in bed and drifting into the zone where sweet dreams take flight. Suddenly, my mobile phone rang. It was Rachel. When I put the phone near my ear, I could heard a spine chilling scream coming from the tiny speakers. She had dispensed with the pleasantries.

I pieced together the incoherent fragments of her one syllable shrieks and realized that she was trying to tell me that a gecko has landed on her wind screen. The trouble was that she was terrified of these creatures and would sooner prefer to have dental treatment without Novocain than to be in their company, albeit behind a protective sheet of shatterproof tempered glass. To make matters worse, she was driving, alone, in a highway from Shah Alam to KL.

Adrenaline pumped and my mind started to work. “Look,” I said, “you have to stop your car right now! Pull over before you crash into another car and hurt someone else!”

“I CAN’T!!!!” she screamed, “IT IS STARING RIGHT INTO MY EYES!!! ARGHHHHH!!!!”

I persuaded her further. To me, it was highly important that she pulled over and regain her composure before attempting to do anything. But the responses that I got were blood-curling screams. I knew that panic had gotten the better of her and there was no use in talking calmly anymore. I put on my authoritative voice and it boomed, “YOU’VE GOT TO PULL OVER NOW! FUCKIN’ PULL OVER BEFORE YOU KILL SOMEONE!”

Not my best moment but I had to do something to knock some senses into Rachel before she knocked into someone else on the road. Imagine how her police report of the accident would read.

In between sobs, she cried, “Call you back later”- and the phone went dead. I tried calling her- but I got the sickening recorded message saying that the number that I had dialed was currently unavailable and that if I wanted to leave a message, I can do it after the beep. Beep.

For 45 minutes, I stared at my mobile phone and wondered, really wondered, if I had done the right thing. Had she decided to drive off a cliff with the intention of killing the reptile on her windscreen? Did she suddenly put on a Hollywood-style bravado to “take down” the windscreen hugger even if it means paying the deed with the ultimate of her price of her life? Sweat began to form on my forehead. I dialed her number again.

There was a ringing tone.

“Hello, are you okay?” I inquired.

I head sobbing but I was relieved to hear that she was stationary and no longer in her car. “Ok, alreadylah,” she said.

“What happened to the lizard?” I asked.

“It took off-” a brief paused as I realized that she must have shuddered at the thought of the gecko- “It gave me a message.”

Puzzled, I asked what message did the lizard give.

“It told me to lay off exposing them. It told me to tell you to stop writing about them. It wanted me to know that it wasn’t kidding and it pissed on my windshield before it deployed it’s parachute and floated off somewhere along Jalan Tun Razak.”

I was amazed.

Lizards and Rubberbands

A friend of mine, Rachel (whose name has been changed to protect ME) told me an interesting theory that Lizards (of the Common House Gecko variety- Hemidactylus frenatus) are attracted to rubber bands.

According to a series of experiment that she has carried out, and purportedly repeated successfully by a Libyan scientific team, she has proven her theory. As I do not have any rubber bands (but plenty of geckos in my place), I hereby outline her steps so that others can try it at their homes:-

1. Place a rubber band near any corners or any other place in your house where Geckos hang out
2. Remember the location.
3. Take a photograph, if you have camera, to record this. Label it “Before”.
4. If you don’t have a camera, take a mental photograph (stare and blink real hard). Label it, in your head, “Before”.
5. Go about your everyday work for 12 hours or more
6. Return to the spot that you have placed the rubber band
7. Take a photograph, if you have camera, to record the location. Compare it to the photograph labeled “Before”.
8. If you don’t have a camera, take a mental photograph (stare and blink real hard). Compare it to the mental picture labeled “Before”.

If Rachel’s Theory holds true, the rubber band would have moved.

This is not the most weirdest observation. Rachel also claims that she has seen geckos using the rubber bands as hula hoops, skipping ropes and waist belts (this must have been a very fat gecko). She also told me how tired she was cleaning after the geckos after their wild nights with the rubber bands.

And yes, one more thing:- geckos have a fond attraction to Spirulina. So if your experiments do not return the desired results, rerun it with Spirulina as bait.