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.

Mid-Priced Speakers

With a specific mission to upgrade my existing system, my buddies and I went on a quest to find the best speakers money (or more specifically, around RM 8,000) can buy.

Body: We tested a few speakers that day but there were really only 2 contenders (with another one worth mentioning but the KEF reference series was way, way, way beyond my paltry budget, about 4 times beyond):-

B&W Nautilus 805: First, a note about the B&W showroom in MidValley. This shop is ONE of the BEST, if not THE BEST hi-fi shop in terms of size, variety (if you’re looking for B&Ws and Arcams), interior decoration and, oh yes, tastefully furnished and sonically superb listening rooms. Now for the speaker:- the Nautilus 805 speaker is sweet! The test track that we played was one of those non-descript-generic-fusion tracks and the result was good with excellent highs and clear mid-range. As this is a bookshelf, the bass was little muted but the lows was deep enough for most purposes. It is a fast speaker with excellent transients. One small thing…it is a little too sweet for my taste as I found the sound to be overly bright. Normally, I can stand bright speakers but the Nautilus 805 lacks something…something that I couldn’t put a finger on until we tried the Harbeth…

Harbeth HL Compact 7ES-2: Ok, before I go on, a word about the hi-fi shop that carries Harbeth in KL, namely Tropical Audio. This small shop is hidden in between motorcycle repair shops in Setapak. Upon entering, I was shocked to see the listening “area”- which wasn’t a room. As one enters the shop, one sees a run down rattan sofa, very much like those that was in vogue during the early eighties, pushed all the way up against the left wall. On the right, was a line of speakers and in the middle of the line was a pair of old and dusty Quad CD Player and 606 amplifier. I also noticed a JBL subwoofer in the line up of speakers as I hesitantly took my seat in the old rattan sofa. Before me stood 3 pairs of the most ugliest speakers that I had ever seen. They are rectangle boxes. That’s the design! To make things worse, I nearly left when the lady of the shop inserted a Jacky Cheung CD into the CD player. Expecting the worst, I closed my eye and waited for the result…And the result was fantastic! The 7ES-2 sang with bass that was tight and surprisingly low (coming from a half floor stander- of course, this can only be concluded after we coaxed the lady to disable the JBL, which was giving an artificial rumble to the set up). The highs were clean. But what blew me was the stereo imaging, I could literally “see” Jacky in the middle of the room! Wanting more, the lady switched to Aaron Neville- which I protested and got a Telarc Happy Trails instead. Again, I felt the orchestra in the room. I could literally pinch the red haired oboist sitting to the right of me.

Comparing both, I realized what the Nautilus 805 lacked are the superb stereo imaging, clarity and pure passion of the 7ES-2. After listening to the both, I had not choice but to abandon my personal favourite (though the B&W still looks absolutely sexy) and settle for a pair of boring looking, but sonically superior Harbeth.

In search of the perfect sound

Inspired by a visit to a friend’s place in Singapore where I tried out some vinyl on his hi-fi system, I decided to plunge right back into the world of perfect audio reproduction…

To be honest, I am a relapsed audiophile.

I tinkered with audio reproduction systems as a kid but never had any resources then to get anything really good to start with. My house initially had an 8-track system and later an unbranded all-in-one-cassette-tuner-amplifier unit and some home-made speakers. I grew up listening to the Beatles, ABBA, Bee Gees, Anne Murray, Art Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac, Earth, Wind and Fire, Leo Sawyer, Boney M, Beethoven, Mozart and Simon Hui on that basic setup. From my musical “roots”, it’s no small wonder that I grew up emotionally balanced and normal (or am I?).

The audiophile bug bit me when I came across a very old Hi-Fi Annual by the now defunct Asia Magazine in one of the Berita Bookstore jumbo warehouse sale of yesteryears. The annual contained interesting articles about high fidelity as well as reviews of outstanding systems for that particular year. One of the article in the magazine claimed that every true audiophile’s dream is to have a system that can recreate, as true as possible, the sound of live music. Seeing that I had never heard a live musical event- save the kindergarten and school performances, which I think don’t really count- I took the opportunity to attend a live classical music performance by a traveling youth orchestra. And even in that sonically challenged environment that is the Dewan Tun Hussein Onn of the Putra World Trade Center, I was completely and utterly blown away by the sound. It was reminiscent of a scene in Amadeus where Salieri first heard Mozart performing his clarinet concerto. I was seduced by the live sound that had allowed the performed pieces to transcend beyond mere musical notes to become intangible ethers of absolute beauty, moving hearts and taming souls. At the same time, I was also envious that my system back home could not- no matter how hard I tinkered- sound like live strings and horns.

Without any financial means to upgrade my system, I survived on compact audio cassettes (though I would need to insert a toothpick on the pinch roller of the tape deck to slow it down because it tends to play faster than normal speed) and FM radio. Later, thanks to Bob- a friend and fellow audiophile- I added a mini-compo (that word still gives me shivers) that had a CD-player. The first CD that I ever owned was Enigma’s debut album. It was played over and over and over again just so I could hear how hiss free and clean the sound was. Adding a CD player to the basic home hifi system brought me one step- out of perhaps a thousand- closer to live music but it was a step that has brought about wonderful vistas in the journey to perfect sound reproduction.

But I digress- to cut a long story to be really short, after having a CD player, the passion became cyclical. At it’s high point I have a Marantz CDS5000 CD player, NAD C320 integrated amplifier and Tannoy Mercury MX1 speakers. At it’s low point, I thought that iPods sounded fantastically natural and I switched my Tannoy with my Audio Pro Focus SA-5 floor standing AV speakers because they have a low bass just like- dread of all dreads- an Ah Beng’s car.

Next: SACDs, DVD-Audios and finally, Vinyl.

Ah…the smell of the ocean, lush rainforest, relaxing spas, good food- what more can one expect?

Ah…the smell of the ocean, lush rainforest, relaxing spas, good food- what more can one expect?

The company will be off to our annual trip tomorrow and this time, we are heading to the beach. Come to think of it, ALL of our company trips were beach trips- the benefit of being a Malaysian is that trips are either way up in the highlands or way down in the beach.

This time around, however, we are headed to the luxurious Pangkor Laut Resort. Ah, the place where Pavarotti shed tears because he said that it resembled paradise or heaven (how he knew what paradise or heaven looked like wasn’t entirely clear but I think that overweight opera singers probably have a direct line with the Almighty seeing how they always look up to the sky dramatically when they sing). But seriously, it is THAT nice.

It isn’t my first time as I had been there a couple of years back. The accommodations were first class and the facilities were excellent. What’s different now is that they had completed the Spa Village and after reading what they wrote, I can’t wait to be there!