Monday, June 30, 2008

The Lochs and Glens of Scotland...

Raena, my daughter, finished university this month and Fareeda and I decided that we should tour the highlands of Scotland before we attend Raena's graduation. How I wished my son, Rastam ( who is working in Tokyo) could have taken some time off from work to join us in another family reunion for this happy occasion.

Our most recent family reunion in Melbourne in February 08 to attend Natasya and Neil's wedding.

It took me about an hour to reach Glasgow from Edinburgh driving along M8 on a fairly quiet Sunday morning. We decided to take lunch here and found a nice Mediterranean restaurant just outside of Glasgow before we took the A82 which took us to our destination of Fort Williams - our first stop.

Lunch at the El Stazione in Glasgow

The A82 is a winding slow drive that took me another hour to skirt the length of Loch Lomond. We passed by the venue of the Barclay's Scottish Open to be held next week, but due to the inclement rainy weather we decided to push on to our destination

.The cruise terminal at Loch Lomond

Leaving the wooded stretch of A82 along Loch Lomond, we started our ascent into the Scottish Highlands.

The wooded stretch of A82 along the length of Loch Lomond

The terrain now becomes hilly and rugged. This is exactly what I imagined the Scottish highlands to be like. However the weather was not conducive for much photoshoot - it kept raining in sheets - but hey! ...this is Scotland and I was told it rains most of the time here in summer!

We braved the rain at a few spots to capture the feel of the highlands with our cameras.

It took us another 2 hours to reach our first destination - Fort Williams. Along the way we drove past Loch Tulla and Loch Leven before we parked ourselves at Corran Inn - a typical Scottish bed and breakfast - located overlooking Loch Levern.

The Corran Inn - located 8 miles south of Fort Williams

The Corran Inn has 5 rooms for rent and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in its own restaurant. It also has a comfortable reading room where you can read and sample the various local 'spirits'.

The reading room of the Corran Inn

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sights of Yogya ...

The Borobodur - a monument in testimony of a great civilisation in Java. Rising up 7 storeys from the ground it represents 7 levels of human existence in our pursuit of 'nirvana'

Reliefs on the life of Buddha and stories from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata are etched into the walls of the Borobodur

Stupas with statues of Buddha in meditation inside them

A statue of Buddha in meditation

Palace elders at the Yogya kraton (royal palace) reciting its imperial history

A part of the orchestral ensemble accompanying the Ramayana Ballet at the Prambanan Temple

The Ramayana Ballet is performed at the grounds of the Prambanan Temple only on the nights of "full moon" during the spring and summer seasons

A young girl in Solo doing a hand-painted batik with the 'tjanting'

The 'penarik becha' of Yogyakarta

Pakdokter's partner and her 'abang betcha'

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Culinaria Yogya......

One of the things I enjoy doing in all of my travels is to sample the local cuisine.

For the Staroba golfers, every trip we made to Indonesia will offer us a full dose of Masakan Padang, the flavour of which is most familiar to our palate. In Jogjakarta, our regular joint is the Rumah Makan Padang Sederhana, with its array of hot and spicy dishes. My only reservation about Padang food is that they are not freshly cooked. Some of the rendang dishes are probably a few days old and the beef rendang can be quite tough to chew. Their "sambel" is without belacan and is not pounded as fine as ours. But you can rest assured that even the green chilli "sambel" will give you a punch and will go down well with the blanched tapioca shoot ( pucuk ubi kayu) or the crispy fried of sliced lung.

Delicious Makanan Padang
After our games at the Merapi Golf Resort, we lunched at a vilage fish restaurant - Rumah Makan Salma. The dining halls are built on stilt structures over fresh water ponds where varieties of fresh water fish are reared. We were served several fish dishes - deep fried crispy gourami, sweet and sour fish, locally grown stir-fried kangkong and of course the local "sambel" and its accompanying ulams. One dish which I liked is the 'soup ikan patin' - a sweet clear soup with chunks of ikan patin cooked with local herbs and pineapple pieces.

Fresh-water ponds rearing various types of fish

Hungry golfers waiting for lunch at Rumah Makan Salma

At the hotel I was able to sample 'nasi gudeq' - this typical breakfast dish consists of rice served with gulai nangka ( jack fruit) and fried chicken and rendang beef. The gulai nangka however is sweet. I prefer the spicy gulai nangka Padang style ( spicy jack fruit gulai cooked in coconut milk and yellow saffron)

Dinner at a local Yogya restaurant

"Nasi timbel" is another local Yogya dish. The rice is served wrapped-up in a roll of banana leaf and accompanied with fried chicken, slices of roast beef, a fried sambal of anchovies with pieces of tempeh ( soya bean cake)and a mixture of ulams ( fresh vegetables) with its sambal. I find in both the 'nasi' , the beef dishes tend to be dry and tough to the chew.

Pak Solehuddin and Pak Noramid trying to charm Sita

I wish I had had the chance to go out and try 2 dishes famously associated with Yogya. One is the 'bebek goreng' - deep fried duck, and the other is the Malioboro Fried Chicken - reputedly better than the Old Colonel's KFC. The Malioboro Fried Chicken is first boiled in the juice of young coconut after which it is deep fried and is tender to the bite. One has to check-out the many food stalls that sprout up along the pedestrian side-walk of Malioboro Street at night in order to savour these dishes.

Maybe next time!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Golfing Yogya.........

The Staroba Golf Club ( the golf section of my old boys association) made its first tour of Jogjakarta 4 years ago. We then played 3 rounds of golf at the Merapi Golf Club - the only 18-hole golf club in existence then in Jogjakarta. The golf course was not only scenic, its interesting design and layout and the difficult fast greens made the 3 days of golfing at the same course interesting and challenging.

The Merapi volcano stands majestically in the background of the fairway

We decided to pay a second visit to Jogjakarta recently as we now have the opportunity to also play at the newly reconstructed 18-hole Borobodur International Golf Resort. Located in the city of Magelang, about 1 hour drive away from Jogjakarta, this course is generally short, but made difficult and challenging by narrow fairways and tricky fast greens. There are a number of lakes to provide more challenge and trap wild drives. However it is at the same time forgiving by not penalising wild drives that cross over adjacent fairways.

The Borobodur Golf Resort with tight fairways and lakes to trap wild shots

For some of us who had already played 3 rounds of golf at the Merapi Golf Club 4 years ago, we were quite careful with our drives and putting this time. I was determined to improve on my scores and so kept my driver in the bag most of the time. This helped keep my ball on the fairways ! The memory of how difficult the putting green was 4 years ago reminded me to listen to the caddy all the time and this helped me to obtain a fairly decent score. Some of the first-timers became victims of the green for not trusting their caddies.

Nordin, Pakdokter, Norahim and our caddies

I relied on my wood-3 again to tee-off at the Borobodur Golf Resort and again played to my handicap. I have often been told that ' you must think and manage your game'. I guess I am just learning to do so and am enjoying the better scores.

Pak Zaher teeing off at the short 98 metres par-3

Pak Norahim, Pak Siraj, Pak Dato Baha abd Pak Hj Amin with their caddies

In fact some of us enjoyed the Borobodur course so much that we decided to play another round in the afternoon. And surprise! surprise!.. I carded home a score of 48/48 which is a record of sorts in my personal golfing history ( I play to a handicapof 23). This is better than my morning round of 51/49.

Pakdokter, Pak Dato Zainal, Pak Ariffin and Pak Zaher before teeing off at Borobodur

I picked up 3 prizes ( we had daily prizes as well as for the overall of the 3 day there were many prizes to pick up) and this is a personal best. As always, during the final night prize giving dinner party, many of the golfers weent up on stage to show off their latent talents in singing and playing musical instruments.

Pakdokter collecting his prize from Pak Dato Zainal

Pak(Golf Captain) Roslan showing off his other talent

Pak Raja Ramlee crooning an evergreen accompanied by the resident band led by Pak Roslan

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On 'Father's Day"......

How times have changed!
I grew up never ever having heard of the Father's Day, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and the many other 'Days' that we celebrate nowadays. The many 'sms's I received, wishing me a Happy Father's Day prompted me to reflect on my father and my relationship to him.

I realised how little I know of him. My father was a man of very few words. I cannot remember any time at all when I had sat down to have a conversation with him. But he was always there, silent but reassuring, firm but not authoritarian, supportive but never directive. The closest moments I had had with him were the Fridays when he would bring me along to the mosque for the Friday prayers.

I am not even sure if my father had had any formal schooling or education at all. I know that he started work as a helper (coolie?) to the British surveyors to plot out maps of the various districts of Perak. He must have learned on the job (and learnt well) to be able to finally retire as a Technical Assistant in the Topographical Survey Department in Kuala Lumpur.

He moved from Perak to Kuala Lumpur in late 40's and was given the government quarters at Chan Ah Tong Street in Brickfields. This is where I was born. Our neighbours were mostly Indian families, workers of the Malayan Railways and many of the kids who grew up there are today successful lawyers and specialist doctors. I believe these kids were fortunate for there were missionary schools nearby which gave them the opportunity to a good English education.

(Government quarters at Chan Ah Tong Street in Brickfields with the Suasana Sentral Condominium in the background)

My father must have realised the importance of education. All my elder siblings were sent to English schools. Yet for reasons only known to him, the three youngest children of eleven in my family ( of whom I am the tenth) were sent to Malay schools. I can only speculate that he must have been swept by the wave of Malay Nationalism that came with the country's struggle for independence.

The Gombak Lane Primary School that I went to was located on the banks of the Gombak River opposite the present Dataran Merdeka. The wooden structure did not even have walls ( but I suppose we had the benefit of fresh air all the time). We did not have exercise books or pencils. We used papan batu ( granite slate) and would rub off whatever we have written using our saliva. I told my children that I grew up during the age of the Flinstones!

Luckily for me that despite all these shortcomings I was able to learn quite well. As I was good at my studies I was selected to go to an English medium boarding school in Ipoh. This is a school specially built for good pupils of Malay primary schools ( which were mostly from the rural areas). We were put through one year of learning nothing else but English. Many of my classmates started out with hardly a word of English. But given their intelligence, hard-work and the efforts of tireless and determined teachers, many of us were successful in our studies and went on to fulfilling successful careers.

Boarding school seperated me further from my father. I disliked the hostel years very much because I was always homesick. I lost my mother ( from breast cancer) when I was in Form 2 and this left me with a more bitter memory about being sent away to the hostel. I do not blame my father for this for it was not him who sent me to the boarding school. It was the system then - I was selected to go because I was a good student. My father just followed whatever was instructed by the education department.I do not know how he felt or what he thought of it. Like I had said earlier, my father was a man of very few words.

He was not a man to show his affection either. I can say that he was somewhat detached. There was no hug of affection, what more of verbal expression of love. Only in his letters (when he occasionally sent me some pocket money) to me did he wished me well as is customary in the old style letter writing. When I did well in all of my examinations, I do not remember even once when he had congratulated me for it! But I am sure that deep in his heart he was very proud of me.

To my father the family always came first. Two years after my mother passed away ( I suspect at the urging of some relatives) he married a very pleasant widow as old as he was. I guess it was more for company and for someone to care for him. But one of my elder sisters did not adjust too well to the presence of a step-mother. And my father divorced her for the sakes of the family (more so for my sister)

He had no influence whatsoever in the career that I chose for myself. I guess he felt that it was better left to me to decide. My medical school years were so hectic that again there was little time to interact with him. I was also involved in student activism as well activities and interests of young people of that age and again I missed out the chance of making connections with my father. When I finished medical school I organised a strike and a boycott of the housemanship in pursuit of a better and fairer salary for the doctors. It was during this time that my father fell ill and died from pnuemonia. I was not at his bedside when he died because I was myself down with fever and fatigue from my involvement of the strike. I still think of this sad day with much regret.

My father died 2 weeks before my convocation at the university. At least he knew that I had made it to become a doctor. If I have the chance I would very much want to give him a hug and thank him for being there for me and to tell him how much I love him.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Loosing my virginity.....

I read three books during the month of May. The first was 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' by Pakistani Mohsin Hamid which was shorlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2007. Through a conversation with an American tourist (or spy?) in a cafe in Rawalpindi, the author narrates the life of a successful Pakistani graduate from Princeton University with a job in a top-notch New York valuation company but with a difficult relationship with an American girl who suffered Psychotic Depression from a severe unresolved grief reaction. When she committed suicide he (became depressed?)returned to Pakistan and became a fundamentalist? The story of his love and life in America was cleverly woven in the conversations while at the same time exposing the distrust and the clash of culture and values between the east and the west. The writer's attention to the details of human emotion and behaviour reminds me of the style of writing of Paulo Coelho.

Fooled by Randomness is written by Nasim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese mathematician who taught at New York University and is the Dean's Professor in the Sciences of Uncertainty at the Isenberg School of Management of the University of Massachussetts at Amherst. He also has an MBA from Wharton and a PhD from the University of Paris. He has a 20-year career as a quantitative trader in New York and London. The book essentially discusses the hidden role of 'chance' in life and in the markets. This first reading has certainly affected how I now view the investment analyses and recommendations I encounter in magazines or on tv and by my investment advisors!

Loosing my Virginity is Sir Richard Branson's (of the Virgin Records and Virgin Airlines fame) autobiography. I had bought this book many months earlier but had deferred reading it due to its thickness. But it turned out to be an easy, interesting and inspiring read.

Branson is a man who loves life. Apart from living his life dangerously, he is also a risk-taker who has been 'lucky' in some of his ventures to become the successful enterpreneur that he is which is now famously associated with the Virgin brand.

Like me, (who was chosen to go to a residential school), Branson was sent by his parents to an elite boarding school. He never liked the experience as he sufferred a fair amount of homesickness. He remembered having many 'crying nights' from missing his family that one of the 'seniors' came to sleep with him to help console his sadness. This senior also encouraged him to play 'touchy-touchy' which he later told his father who promptly ordered him to stop the game!

I can very much emphatise with Branson's experience of the "hostel's life', and like him, I too did not encourage any of my children to go to a boarding school. Luckily for me, none of my children was ever interested in going to a boarding school either.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Yoga......for better golf?

My wife recently persuaded me to join her 'yoga classes' which happened to be conducted at the condominium where we live.My idea of 'yoga' is that it is simply a form of a 'relaxation exercise' for both body and mind. I was also under the impression that it is a 'simple' and 'light' exercise.
My first session turned out to be quite a revelation. To an observer, the 'relaxation' and 'stretching' routines appear easy, but executing them is a test of how flexible your muscles and joints can be.
I never thought I would become 'breathless' doing yoga. After 30 minutes of yoga I sweated as much as when I have spent the same duration of time jogging on the threadmill. I discovered how stiff my body is and how so many of my body joints are so inflexible! I was reassured that if I persevere, I may be able to achieve some degree of flexibility in the future.
I must admit that I do enjoy the experience. At the end of the session I felt like I had had a one-hour treatment of traditional thai massage. I am by nature quite 'relaxed' , but there is no harm if I can acquire more skills at becoming 'relaxed'.
Hopefully this will help me improve my golf!