Monday, June 30, 2008

Fernando Torres: the making of a legend

Congratulations to Spain for winning the Euro 2008.

But what really interests me is the player who scored their winning goal, Fernando Torres, the Liverpool striker.

Spain striker Fernando Torres set a record for the highest league tally by a foreign player in his Premier League debut season for Liverpool, surpassing Ruud van Nistelrooy's mark of 23 league goals in the final game of the 2007-2008 campaign against Tottenham to reach the milestone of 24.

Then on Sunday the 24-year-old capped his incredible year by scoring the winner in his nation's 1-0 victory over Germany in the final of Euro 2008.

Read more about the making of this legend in this BBC news article.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

New masthead for Seri Kepayang blog

My blog has got this new masthead since last week (can't remember what day it was).

Now, I must say something about the new masthead.

It is courtesy of my brother Mie, who is the artist in the family - he has been drawing and doodling since as far as I can remember.

The photo shows my Opah's house as it was in the 1950s. My guess is it was taken sometime before Merdeka.

This is the place I was born, err... a long time after that photo was taken.

It used to be surrounded by thick under growths, especially to its west (that's at the back of the house as shown in the photo). That was where I saw a small tiger (okay, maybe it was a kucing hutan) when I was a kid!

Yup, I kid you not.

Kampong Kepayang is a real, authentic Malay kampong. Even to this day - minus the kucing hutan, of course.

Rider's log No. 23

Date: 28 June 2008 (Saturday)

Set off/finish time: 6.35am to 7.20 am

Total duration: 45 minutes only

Starting point: Home (Bandar Tun Hussein Onn, Cheras)

Route taken: From BTHO to Tmn Minang Ria, Bdr Damai Perdana, Balakong Industrial Estate, Jusco Cheras Selatan, Cheras Perdana and back home.

Distance covered: about 12 km (forgot to set the meter)

Max. speed: don't know (again, the meter)

Trail condition: mostly road, plus gravel surface

General notes:

This is the first time no dogs have tried to bite me on my early morning ride. Met a few but they just viewed me wearily from afar. Obviously they know who's the boss by now (learning fast). Oops, I hope the boasting won't lead to an all out ambush next weekend!!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Life in the UK: 10 things Blackpool is famous for

From the kampongs of Malaysia transported to glitzy Blackpool. That’s what happened to my friends and I back in 1979.

To say that we experienced a culture shock to the ways of the English would have been an under-statement.

Take the beaches of Blackpool, for example.

During summer, a casual and innocent stroll on the beach was enough to create a stir of excitement amongst us young guys from the kampong. The English, apparently, have a different set of norms for summer clothing from us – especially when they are on the beach, if you know what I mean!

But looking back, we were fortunate to have been sent to Blackpool. For Blackpool is unique place and has a charming character of its own. Granted, it is a resort town. But even amongst seaside resorts, it stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Here are 10 things that Blackpool is famous for :

Blackpool Tower

The Tower is the undisputed icon of Blackpool, forming a dominant landmark on the Blackpool skyline since 1894. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower, it is 158m tall. Beneath it is a complex of leisure facilities, including the world famous Tower Ballroom and Tower Circus. I went all the way to the top once.

Donkey Rides

This is a typical sight on British seaside resorts. Very popular with children, and some adults too.

Saucy (naughty) postcards
Saucy Seaside Postcards are a peculiar tradition but are synonymous with holidays along the British coast. They typify the quirky humour of the British. Characters would mostly be “well endowed” young women, well built older women, hen pecked husbands or red nosed drunks.

Blackpool Rock

“Rock” here actually means candy. Sticks of rock – made simply from water, sugar, glucose syrup, flavouring and colour – are very much a part of the English seaside resorts. The candy sticks have lettering in it. Some are sold shaped as walking sticks. A “must-buy” souvenir for all visitors to Blackpool.

Blackpool Trams

Tram Stop at Gynn Square
The Blackpool Tram is the only surviving first-generation tramway in UK and dates back to 1885. It runs parallel to the beach promenade from Starr Gate in Blackpool to Fleetwood in the north. A cheap and convenient transport for us students to get to town.

Blackpool Illuminations

Described as “The Greatest Free Show on Earth” the Illuminations was started in September 1879. It consists of a series of lighted displays arranged along the entire length of the sea front (11 km). It starts in September and runs till October. It is Blackpool’s clever strategy to lengthen its holiday season. When other resorts pull down the shutters for the year, Blackpool continues to pulsate with activity attracting millions every year well into autumn.

The Pleasure Beach
Below: The "Loop". Tried it once. Never again!! Kecut perut dibuatnya
The Pleasure Beach is one of Britain’s most famous theme parks. It has over 145 rides including the tallest and fastest roller coasters in Europe. During summer I would take lots of friends from other parts of England to finish off their money here. Entrance to the park is free, though. You only pay for the rides. Pleasure Beach attracts about 6 million visitors a year. It ranks amongst the top 15 most popular theme park in the world.
The Piers
North Pier

Fish & Chips store on Central Pier

Deck and kiosks

The Pier is synonymous with English seaside holidays. They are entertainment havens on structures built of steel that extend 400 to 500m out to sea. Blackpool has three piers: the North Pier, Central Pier and Southern Pier. Many famous artistes and comedians would perform at the piers during the holiday seasons. If one is not much into shows, one could just stroll along the piers to enjoying the views or just sit down and relax on the deck chairs.

Bed & Breakfast

Bed and breakfast, or popularly called B&B refers to an accommodation facility that offers only bed accommodation plus breakfast. Very basic. No fancy meeting rooms nor swimming pool for you if you stay here. Typically, B&B are private homes with only one or two bedrooms available for commercial use. There a lot of B&Bs in Blackplool because most visitors don’t need an elaborate accommodation to stay in. They’d be spending most of their time outside by the beach or in one of the numerous entertainment centres.

The Promenade

Evening stroll on promenade against the sunset

A typical shelter on the promenade

The Promenade is the area fronting the beaches. It is a pedestrianized area. It stretches on for miles and is ideal for long, leisurely stroll taking in the fresh air and enjoying the great views of the beach and the sea. The Blackpool Promenade is divided into 3 distinct areas, i.e. the North Shore, Central, and South Shore. The North Shore is from the North Pier to Bispham along the cliffs past Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This is the most historic part of Blackpool's Promenade as it has changed little since its construction in Victorian times.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Life in the UK: Glitzy Blackpool

I received my tertiary education at Manchester, UK. But before that was possible, I was sent to do A-Levels first at a college in Blackpool, a coastal town in the north west of England.

I remember receiving the green letter of offer to enter the Blackpool College of Technology and Art sometime in July of 1979. My mind immediately wandered to England. I started day-dreaming of being in the land which gave the world Star Soccer which I’d watched with Apak on television. The land with kings and queens whose faces had adorned the old Malayan coins.

I left home for Blackpool in early September of 1979. I had just turned 18 years old four months earlier. Young and innocent, I was to spend 6 years of my life in this land of our former colonial masters.

With a total population of about 100,000, Blackpool, in Lancashire County, is one of England's premier sea-side resorts. With its iconic tower, famous tram system which was the world's first electric street tramway, and long sandy beaches, Blackpool is a popular holiday destination for the British till today. Its glitzy image – what with all its casinos, theaters, ball rooms and long roller coasters – reminds one of a smaller scale Las Vegas.

I arrived in Blackpool by coach from London on a chilly September afternoon back in 1979. If memory serves me right, there were fifteen of us. Our first stop was the College at Ashfield Road to report to the Overseas Students Coordinator. From there we were put up for a couple of nights at the Marlowe Hotel, at No. 12, Pleasant Street before we could move into our own rented flats.

The Blackpool College of Technology and Art (as it was known then)

For the most part of my two years in Blackpool, I stayed in a flat with a group of friends in Norbreck. Norbreck was in fact in Thornton-Cleveleys north of Blackpool. My self address at the top of all my letters to Apak and Emak back home then would read “No. 22, Norbreck Rd. Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancashire, FY5 1RP, United Kingdom”.

Staying 10km north of Blackpool town centre meant that we were off and away from where the real actions were. But, what’s nice about Norbreck is that it is close to our college. We guys who stayed here were the only ones who could walk to the college for classes. The others had to take the bus everyday. Some cycled.

Norbreck has been described (perhaps a bit too harshly) as being “probably the windiest place on Earth”. I remember walking to the college on cold, drizzling, winter mornings. I would walk past by the fruit store on Guilford Avenue, the mini post office, and the fish and chips store, all on my right. The Spar convenient store would be on my left hand side before I start to go downhill, passing by rows of quaint, single and double-storey English houses.

During spring and summer the front gardens of these houses offered a feast for the eyes as they are filled with daffodils, roses and numerous other flowers. Somehow, it was the bright yellow daffodils that I always looked forward to and loved the most. For, they are amongst the first to bear flowers when spring comes around. And what refreshing sites they were.

After the rows of houses, Guilford Avenue meets up with Fleetwood Road. From here, I would walk across a large open field followed by an area of thick grassland before finally arriving at the college. The journey would take me 15 minutes in all – 20 minutes during winter, if the harsh winter winds were blowing!

Norbreck boasts a cold, but beautiful beach. When the tide is out you have over a kilometer of flat clean sandy beach to walk to the sea. You can see seagulls swirling above, whilst shells and starfish litter the beach after a storm. The sunset is absolutely stunning. As a budding shutterbug, it was a frequent photographic subject during my "lensemen outings".

Norbreck Beach

The beautiful Norbreck Beach sunset

But come winter, the storms that thunder in from the Irish Sea are certainly not for the faint hearted to experience.

Ah, yes. Blackpool. The windswept, seaside resort town Blackpool.

It holds many good memories.

This is where I spent two years slogging, preparing for my GCE A-Levels as an entry requirement to the university. This is where I got to be exposed to new ideas and concepts. Learnt to know Islam as a way of life.

And many more...

Winter sea-storm at Norbreck Beach

Nobreck Castle Hotel back-of-house, as seen from direction of my flat

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Things Japanese (4): Sendai Aoba-Matsuri

Sendai is the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture in Japan. The city was founded around 1600 by the daimyo Date Masamune and currently has a population of around 1 million.

Now, the Japanese just love festivals, or “matsuri” as it is called in Japanese. Most cities in Japan have their own special matsuri.

Sendai have a few local matsuri of its own.

The most famous is the Aoba Matsuri that attracts all the merry-making and dancing – typical Japanese festival traditions.

My friend, Toru Tanaka, who hails from Sendai is very proud of his city and the Aoba-Matsuri. Recently he wrote me a long and interesting email (with photos) describing the festival.

According to Tanaka-san, the Aoba-Matsuri started about 130 years ago as an annual festival of the Aoba-Jinja (Aoba Temple). The Aoba-Jinja was a shrine dedicated to Masamune Date who was the leader of the clan which had reigned over Sendai area for about 260 years since 1601.

But curiously, according to Tanaka-san, the festival was stopped about 30 years ago as traffic conditions got worse. Luckily for us, it was revived since 1985 as a festival for citizens of Sendai and to commemorate the 350th year of Masamune's death.

During the festival, many dance teams perform the 'Suzume-Odori” (sparrow dance). They dance to drums, bells, and flutes, with fans in both hands. Tanaka-san says that “the basic step is very easy, like this: put a foot in front of the other foot and repeat it by turns, lowering one's waist. However, each dance team will improvise and present a style of their own during performances”. Tanaka-san says the dance is “quite similar to samba”.

The dance is performed on the streets. During the night festival, a competition is held at the public square in front of the city hall. Usually there will also be a dance team of city officers. And they are quite good, too, as they have won first prize many times.

It is said that the original Suzume-Odori was first performed in 1603 by stonemasons from Osaka who came to Sendai to build a new castle. It was performed to celebrate the completion of the castle.

The dance was named ''Suzume-Odori” because the movements with fans and the rhythm is similar to sparrows picking at seeds. And it may also be connected with the fact that one of the emblem of the Date clan is made out in the shape of “sparrows and bamboos”.

After 130 years, now, the Aoba-Matsuri is a typical sight and sound of the spring season in Sendai. And from the photos sent to me by Tanaka-san, what a great and joyous occasion it is too.

Enjoy photos of this year’s Sendai Aoba-Matsuri taken by Tanaka-san (the commentaries are provided by Tanaka-san himself).

The basic style of SUZUME-ODORI

The drummers. Each team consist of flag-bearers, dancers, drummers, bell players and flute players

Let's make a pose!

There are many cute infant dancers. The dancers wear clothes like stonemasons. These childrens' wear are especially traditional style

A team of my co-workers. His team is famous but his team is not a city officer's team

My colleague. He really enjoys dancing

I found foreigners in some team. The woman in the center of the photo may come from Malaysia. I think there are many Malaysians in SENDAI, who is studying at TOHOKU Univ. the float behind the dancers is sponsored by SENDAI city

Polite dancers. They thanked the audience. They are a team of bank workers

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Oil price hike - the big one

So, it has happened. The much talked about (and dreaded) oil price hike is finally here with us.

And what a whopping big hike it was, too!

Before this, oil price increases had been by only a few sen. 5 sen. 10 sen, at the most. Even then it had still caused grumblings among the rakyat. For, prices of goods and commodities would duly increase too.

But to increase by 78 sen per litre? Now that is unprecedented. Not to mention irresponsible and reckless, if I may add.

Lest we forget, we are an oil producing nation. And the national petroleum company is making profits by the billions of ringgit! I did not say this myself. The government claimed so.

Therefore, something is amiss here. Why do we have to hike our prices to be closer to those of our neighbours up north and down south?

Surely we are different. We must be different. They don’t have oil fields. They don’t have a big oil firm which is consistently listed as one of the most profitable corporate entities in the world.

The quantum of increase means that the rakyat are in for a shock.

First, their disposable income will greatly be reduced.

Then, there is the attendant after-effect of oil price hike: inflation.

As prices of goods and services start to rise, the real value of their income will be shrunk further.

For big-salaried ministers and filthy-rich corporate big shots this is, of course, nothing to lose sleep over. But to ordinary people – lowly-paid civil servants and the kampong folks – their quality of life shall be grossly, adversely affected.

The policy-makers. Didn’t they think of these groups of people?

Meanwhile car owners have to start considering ditching their cars. Fat chance, if we know Malaysians well. They love their rides too much to do that. In any case, the alternative – our public transport systems – are still not up to the mark.

Alternatively, maybe we should switch to gas to power our vehicles – NGV. Now that’s a much more acceptable proposition. NGV is not only cheaper, but also environmentally-friendly.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hectic two weeks!

Its the school holidays.

My kids are back home. I'm supposed to take it easy and be more at home with the family. Or go away somewhere. Take a short vacation or something.

But this school holidays things just are just not working out that way.

Last week I had to go to Melaka for a Risk Management Seminar. Then the whole family went up north to prepare - and of course attend, my brother in law's wedding.

Today, right after subuh prayers, its off to Port Dickson for the annual Pemeriksaan Bajet Mengurus meetings. Tomorrow, I am supposed to fly to Labuan for another meeting the day after. God help me.

The mind may be willing, but the body is starting to complaint. I'm knackered! I feel exhausted.

So, I think I'll pass the Labuan trip and ask a colleague to replace me.