Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Falkland memories..

The pinnacle of my career as a reporter..
I joined a training programme at the oldest newspaper in the country in hope of improving my written English.
Prior to that, I spent a few years working as a photographer.
The foray into reporting was purely an attempt to better myself.
After going through the selection process: theory and practical, I was accepted as a rookie reporter.
And like anyone who is fresh, I started right at the bottom.
My break came in 1998 when I did a series of feature stories on 'recession proof' careers.
I toured the entire East Malaysia and later, hopped onboard an LNG vessel from Bintulu in Sarawak to Tokyo, Japan.
And just when I thought it was over, I was later assigned to accompany a solo sailor who was on his maiden voyage from Perth to Port Klang.
The assignment was to interview him and join his voyage from Port Klang to Langkawi where he had set up a shore base.
In the months that ensued, I picked up where most of the prima donna reporters had left of, filing in daily takes on the sailor's progress report. 
I made good money by filing-in the stories and earning overtime.
All this came to a halt in April, 1999.
The sailor's boat, a 50-foot ocean racer was knocked-down three times while he was crossing the Southern Ocean.
He made a jury rig for the boat and was towed to the Falkland Islands. The rest was history.
Back in KL, I was mourning the sudden demise of my overtime.

With my former colleague Karim Mustaffa in Brisbane, Australia

A lucky break..
The Government, led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad back then had made an announcement.
It was a bold move to fly a Hercules C130H-30 transport aircraft with a crew of 20 from the 20th Squadron's airbase in Subang Jaya to the Falklands.
Back in the office, there were a lot of debate.
And despite all that, I was selected to cover the delivery of a spare mast, satellite communication parts and other equipment to the sailor.
And the rest was history. I traveled the world on the C130 in 18 days.

On a volcano crater in Rapa Nui, Chile
Port Stanley, Falklands

Near a minefield in the Falklands
Personal enrichment
After the Falklands stint, I went on to tour Europe.
My dream of seeing the world was complete.
I became contented with my work and slowly made it up the ranks.
A year after the mission to the Falklands, I came to know of a book deal.
Two female reporters were sent to interview the sailor for a hardcover book project, detailing his voyage.
At the same time, I was told by the then Group Editor of the daily to write an account of my journey to Falklands that never saw print.
It didn't really bother me much.
But the part that sucks was the fact that the book was published and I wasn't even given a complimentary copy..hahahah!
I knew that at the time, the head honcho was a bigot and still is.
But it was no loss to me. 
I never even saw the book.
Two decades as a journalist has taught me much. That respect is earned and humility is the road less traveled.
Such are the principles that I still hold closely to my heart..

Kayuhan Raub 2012 - Part 3

An earl day...
The night before, I told the guys to assemble at the hotel lobby.
Our plan was to head to town to have breakfast at the pasar minggu.
There is a corner shop that sells nasi lemak.
We set out at about 06:15 in the morning and rode towards town. 
This is a clean 2km ride towards Raub's open market area.
When we got there, the shop was already open and most of us had our breakfast before moving on to the starting area in the Lake Gardens.

Early birds: Michelle and Kevin

Riding out to town..
The Jetstreamers
 After a good fill, we set to the assembly area.
There, we waited while the crowd had slowly swelled.
At a glance, there weren't many riders. Kayuhan Raub 2012 attracted some 200-odd cyclists from all the the country.
What got us back for our second ride was the great hospitality shown by the good people of Raub.

The Usual Suspects
I met Pak Din Misai last year.
He was so accommodating, he actually accompanied me to the finish line.
At the stage area, one of the foldies encountered some issues with his front tire.
It was flat.
The guys tried to help, but my friend's problem is much worse that perceived.
Kevin, our Starmetro cycling team captain had lend a hand. The rest of the guys too had done their bid.
I knew this problem too well and observed from a distance.
It was a busted valve on a Schwalbe 20 x 1.65 inner tube. The bike owner brought the wrong stuff to replace the busted tube.
I had mine stashed in my Camelbak Octane 21 pack. 
And I did the rightful thing by offering the poor guy my spare tube.
Once the change was made, he was back in action..

Kevin lending a helping hand..
An old friend: with Din Misai
Saved by the bell
With the bike fixed, we were just minutes away from flag-off.
While riding to the back of the pack, I heard my name being called.
It was my friend Ah Hoe from Bentong.
Then Michelle shouted out: "Hey! Your friend is calling you la!"
I turned around and saw Pak Din Misai.
"Apa khabar Sam! Lama tak nampak, kita sampai numbor satu dengan dua dari belakang la..," he joked.
I was very happy to meet this man.
Pak Din spotted a beard and as usual, he's jolly and cheerful.
The organizer gave his speech and briefed the cyclists before blowing off his airhorn to mark the beginning of the ride.
We rode off towards the Lurah Bilut junction in Bentong and proceeded towards Sungai Ruan..

Riding the rear of the Peloton with Pak Din

The long road ahead..
 Same-same, different..
This year's Kayuhan Raub is much longer than the previous one.
Its 96km through the district's rugged countryside.
And as usual, Michelle and I had planned to complete the ride.
We don't have the speed, but we had the endurance.
The first 60km was okay.
But beyond that, my legs had started to rebel against my body.
Upon reaching Sungai Ruan, my thighs started to suffer cramps.
Instead of giving up, I pushed on. 

Not even a busted thigh would hinder me from reaching the finish line.
Pak Din was very kind to accompany us all the way.
Michelle and I made a pact. Never give up, never surrender.
As we crossed the 75km mark, all the cyclists on the tail end were picked up by a truck which accompanied us.

The valley of pain..
We hit the 80km mark in a village called Dong.
It was the last water and feeding station before the finish line in Raub.
At this point, only three of us were left cycling.
My Garmin EDGE800 showed a timing of 6hours 15minutes.
Pak Din suggested that we take a bypass route towards the Lake Gardens.
We managed to reach the stage area where our friends were already waiting.
All the foldies in my group had completed the ride.
One of them, Mohd Radzi did very well..

Sungai Koyan's finest: Pak Din Misai
 During the ride, I also got to know my friend Pak Din better.
He told me that he runs a small plantation in Sungai Koyan to make his end's meet.
Din has three children with the eldest in secondary school.
He is 53-years-old this year and a retiree from the Armed Forces.
I thanked him at the finish line and told him that I hope to meet him again next year at the 2013 Kayuhan Raub.

We did it again!
 Michelle was the happiest person of the lot.
She managed to complete the ride. 
I was just too happy to make it all the way despite the thighs giving way.
We didn't train for this and are grateful that we did not suffer any serious injuries.
As for Michelle, she said it was her taxpayer's money back because of the police escort that we had enjoyed for 45km from the starting line.
The Kayuhan Raub experience is something that we would cherish for our entire cycling forays.. We hope to be back next year!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Kayuhan Raub 2012 - part 2

Keeping good company..
Nine people from my peer group are taking part in the ride.
Two of them were my office colleagues, while the other four were my folding bike kakis.
Michelle and I had signed-up as 'Team Jetstream', maintaining our tradition from last year.
We had Ehfan Shah and team Captain Kevin Tan from The Star, Uncle Sin Tai Lim, Uncle KK Fong, his son Kevin and Mohd Radzi.
After picking up our cycling goodie bags from Taman Tasik Raub, I brought them to the Kari Ayam Sempalit restaurant in town for tea.
The guys had a taste of Raub and later, we met Kevin who arrived in town on his own.
This was followed by an extended tea-session at KF coffeeshop where we had some good iced coffee including some kaya puffs.

Happy-happy: Uncle Sin and his goodie bag
At the Raub Kari Ayam restaurant
Kari Ayam Sempalit
Later, we set a time to have dinner at Restoran Sentosa, a pork-free makan place in town.
I went to book a table there and the first thing Michelle noticed was the lady boss who was a bit 'off'.
Anyway, after taking a shower and resting at the hotel, I decided to head out to the nearby bank to withdraw some cash.
As I was going, one of the guys offered me a can of beer. 
Uncle Sin and Uncle Fong was enjoying happy hours before dinner.

Durian special: Ehfan posing at the restaurant

The gang, enjoying a hearty meal
After a good dinner, we headed back to the hotel to get some rest.
While the others had called it a day, a few of us had stayed at the porch area to enjoy some beers. 

After hours: Enjoying the beers

Tiger beer for the soul..
I hung out with Sin and Fong to hear about the latest gossips in the folding bike circle.
They told me about a master and his student who had done some 200km/day ride from Tanjung Malim to Sekinchan.
Sounds amazing considering the fact that these guys are riding with small wheels.
I guess they'll have plenty of plans to do such amazing feats next year!
We continued with the beers and decided to call it a day after we were done.
What lies ahead the next morning: is a road paved with pain...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Kayuhan Raub 2012 - part 1

The last long-distance cycling event of the year..
Well, for us that is.
I've booked two places for the Kayuhan Raub 2012 that took place at the Raub district in Pahang.
We had a great time last year and made it a point to go back for another round.
Michelle did not complete the ride and actually returned with a vengeance.
Like usual, we fed the dogs before leaving our home for Bentong where we had an early lunch.
The plan was to take the scenic route via Kampung Sang Lee and Tras.

Our boy, looking pensive
Bentong's wantan mee
A decent lunch break
We pulled over in Bentong town after an hour's drive from Subang Jaya.
At the small trader's association, there is a coffee shop that sells wantan mee.
I can also see a banner promoting the Fabulous Food 1 Malaysia campaign where the district's MP will launch it on December 15.
Right in front of the shop, there is a family selling wantan mee.
I ordered two plates plus some extra wantans and the bill came to RM10.40.
The noodles were excellent, but the char siew could be better.
After a good fill, we proceeded towards the Fraser's hill junction and towards Sang Lee village.

Kg Sang Lee's mascot: the Landrover

King of fruits: the Durian
 Michelle and I made a stopover at Kg Sang Lee to snap a couple of photographs.
There was a on old Landrover and a large concrete Durian which was displayed side-by-side. 
We couldn't resist posing next to it and would accept being labelled as 'bogus' by some master guru cyclists for not using our bikes to get there.. Hahahah!
From Sang Lee, we moved to Kg Tras, a small village that has some really colourful buildings.

A scene in Kg Tras
After the detours, we arrived in Raub at 3pm and met up with Mohd Radzi, one of our regular cycling kakis.
Later, we drove to Taman Tasik Raub to collect our goodie bags..

Thursday, November 15, 2012

And when the going gets tough!

Time to let go..
Over the years, I've amassed some assets.
There are stuff in my keeps that can be sold for cash.
Now that I am down to scraping the bottom of the barrel, I have to quickly dispose of some of my stuff that are not in use anymore..

A trip to 'Cash Converters'
I rounded up a few items: DVD player, a brand-new cordless phone that came free with my high-speed broadband subscription, a used SD-card video camera, a used Sony-Ericsson cellphone, an Apple wireless keyboard and a Sony Smartwatch.

Lower your expectations..
I found out that the Cash Converters outlet is a basically a dumping ground for junk that people do not need.
There were a lot of thrash at the pick-up area.
A lady, who was waiting for her turn to get her items for sale assessed had tried to sell off a cheap GPS set.
She wanted RM600 for the unit.
A sales assistant at the outlet offered her RM30.
This process is time-consuming and when my turn is up, I had six items for sale.
I was hoping to score on the Sony Smartwatch, but it fell way too short of my expectations.

Okay, these outlets would buy your stuff at the lowest price. I mean, literally cheaper than dirt and re-sell them for at least 30 -60% higher.
What I got for my Sony Smartwatch was RM40, the DVD player, which turned out to be faulty fetched RM40, cordless phone was marked at RM10, used cellphone RM50, SD Card video camera got RM120, the Apple keyboard was given RM20.
I walked away with RM170 selling two items. The video camera and cellphone was theirs for the taking.

Its better than nothing..  
Some of my old stuff was actually worth some cash. 
I was glad to get rid of them as they are taking up space at home.

Airborne parasites

Paying a price for not applying insect repellant..
I normally spray my 100-deet insect repellent on my bug-hunts.
A couple of days ago, I paid the ultimate price when a swarm of hungry mosquitoes had bitten my arms and legs.
Their presence was overwhelming as I swatted a few in a single swipe.

An Aedes mosquito at work
Predator and prey
The Aedes mosquito is responsible for the Dengue fever which is a cause of many deaths in urban areas.
All you need, is transmission via an infected individual to cause an outbreak.
This time round, I was the prey.
I spotted a small mosquito on my arm and started photographing it.
Slowly, it began to fill up its belly with my blood.
Mosquitoes are expert in withdrawing its victim's bodily fluid without causing any pain.
I can see clearly on my viewfinder, the proboscis being injected into my skin.
With a contracting movement, blood started to fill its belly.

A large male mosquito
 Beyond normal magnification..
The mosquito is a small bug.
It measures no more than 5mm in length.
To get the best of it, you have to shoot the bug at 3x magnification.
Flash Exposure Control is set at +1 EV to increase the bombardment of the twin lights on my Canon MT24EX flash.
The hardest thing to do, is to get a steady shot handheld.
With my eyes peeled on the bug, I squeezed the shutter button when it came in focus. The rest was post-processing on my Adobe Lightroom 4 software.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A place called Gopeng

A cure for an itch..
Farmer Wong told me that he haven't been fishing for months.
The rainy season had brought along good fortune as demand for greens have been high.
Despite that, he invited me to tag along on a fishing trip to Gopeng, Perak.
For Wong, its an opportunity to pick up his motorized pump in Teluk Intan, which is an hour's drive away from the location.

The plan
After feeding the dogs, I drove to Karak.
There, I met up with Ah Pan and Wong. We set out towards Gohtong Jaya near Genting Highlands and rolled down towards Batang Kali.
From the Selangor border, we drove towards Sungkai where we had lunch at Choy Kee restaurant which is known for their pork trotters and slow-cooked ikan Terubuk.
Following that, we left for Gopeng.
That was where I met Farmer Chong, a friend of Ah Pan and Wong.
We left our luggage at his home where we spent a night and took off to a fishing pond.

An old article at the makan place
A story told through time and again...
My farmer friends told me about their massive haul from a pond in the Lawan Kuda farm near Gopeng.
Their usual catch would run into the dozens and each ikan Haruan (snakehead) would easily weigh-in above 2kgs.
I always take stories as such with a pinch of salt.
We only had a few hours at the pond.
I had a few nibbles and a strong bit on my bushwhacker lure.
That was it.
Ah Pan landed one fish, while the heavily-pressured Farmer Wong had a small catch.
We decided that it was best to release all the fish back to the pond and called it a day..

Trying my luck
Ah Pan at work...
Farmer Wong's catch of the day
Our good host
We left the pond at 7:30pm. 
It got dark and as soon as we reached Farmer Chong's home, most of us had freshened up.
I checked my phone which was flooded with missed calls and tonnes of messages.
It was work-related and when I returned an 'urgent' call, the voice on the other side of the line was rather frantic.
That's the problem when you deal with people who are afraid and completely in the dark about the present work situation.
Dealing with such ninkampoops raises my blood pressure. Nevertheless, I had it sorted out and dealt with the issue the following day.
The rest of the night, we caught up with Farmer Chong and his friends.
Chong hosted us to tea while Farmer Wong brought some durian to entertain his host.
Spare the meager catch, the night went down well...

Our great host - Farmer Chong

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A day at the farm..

Good friends are hard to come by these days..
I met Farmer Wong eight years ago.
We were introduced by Steven Leong, a bio-technologist who had worked and lived in Japan for some years.
His company, Shimamoto agriculture, is one of the leading bio-technology ventures in Japan.
Leong taught Wong on ways to manage a sustainable farm.
The formation years were tough.
Wong had worked his ass off for two years before he got the formulation right for his compost fertilizers.
His hardwork paid off after the Pahang agricultural department had awarded him the state's first Good Agricultural Practise certification.
In short, Wong's produce is able to reach any market - especially those who are concerned about pesticide abuse.
Although not entirely organic, Wong's vegetables are treated with the mildest insecticide.
We've became good friends with a lot of common interest.
One of them was firearms and knives.
Recently, Wong had surrendered his .22 Ruger rifle to the police.
He took ownership of a .243 Winchester Browning BAR rifle.
I had a chance to try it out and after firing a few rounds, I was impressed with the performance of the gun..

A worker and her dogs
These pooches provide added security to the farm
With the new firearm, Farmer Wong can keep his property safe.
Next up, is probably a pistol.
Sin Poh produces a yield of four to six tonnes of vegetable a day.
Their market covers Bentong, Raub, Kuala Lipis and Gua Musang.
The rainy season it seems, is actually boosting sales of leafy vegetables with prices soaring high as demands had tripled.
Wong is happy with the fact that his crop yield is steady.

A beautiful piece: The Browning BAR rifle
Ah Pan's pet project
Wong's Man-Friday Ah Pan, who is also an old friend of mine, had lived at Sin Poh farm for eight years.
He takes care of Wong's two daughters and only son Wong Wei.
Recently, Ah Pan had embarked on an aquaculture project.
He is now rearing Tilapias and Grass Carp for sale.
After four months, the fishes are growing on a steady pace..

Feeding time: Ah Pan at work
When the harvest is ready, there is at least a huge revenue for the income generated from the fishing ponds.
On a hindsight, Ah Pan told me that his nephew, Sherman, who is also a friend of mine, is planning to acquire a plot of land next to Farmer Wong's.
I hope this venture will work as eventually, he will set up a homestay near Sin Poh..

Raub revisited

Optimising my off days..
I had a few days off.
The previous working days were spent on proof-reading my new book.
Now that its going to print, I can sigh with relief.
One year of ding-donging and yo-yoing between emotions was put to rest.
So, I rang up Ah Pan, an old buddy of mine who wanted to show me his new project, a budget homestay on the foothills of Raub in Pahang.
Since I met him, Ah Pan had been living in Bentong for eight years.
He was very excited to show me a villa, which is rented to corporate big-wigs.
Its owned by a developer and was named after his daughter.
The name's too cheesy to mention.
Anyway, I took a drive from my home in Subang Jaya to Karak where I met Ah Pan and Farmer Wong, another friend of mine.
We had breakfast and parted ways.

Breakfast with my farmer friends

A beautiful view of the mountains in Raub
We drove towards Bentong and made a turn near the Fraser's Hill junction.
The villa is located near Sang Lee, a Chinese village some 15km away.

Seems like its a good cycling route.
But the road leading towards the junction is laden with heavy traffic.
I was really surprised with the villa that the developer had built.
We met him at the reception area of the accommodation facility.
A night at this villa costs about RM8k. They have three of such facilities that are fully equipped.
To me, its just another yuppie getaway.
I heard that the place was used for some high-powered meetings. So, all those Snakes, Crocs and Lizards would hang around to talk business.
Since the owner was busy, we went over to the proposed budget accommodation on the other side of the road.
At this point in time, it was just a worksite.
I don't know what Ah Pan had told the guy because he had expected some publicity from my visit.
But seeing as it is, the guy was not hospitable. So, after we inspected the site, we drove back to Karak town to meet up with Farmer Wong's arms dealer for lunch.

A posh set-up
The Samo-mobile mkII on its maiden long-distance voyage...
A view from the budget homestay site..
I don't see any prospect in staying at the villa because the cost is out of this planet.
As for the budget homestay, there's nothing yet.
But the route is something that I was really interested in.
Perhaps in the future, I will organise a short scouting ride from Bentong to Raub using the Sang Lee route..

Dogathon 2012

A yearly affair..
Michelle and I would never miss out on the University Putra Malaysia's annual 'Dogathon' event.
This is organised by their veterinary science faculty where participation is free for pet owners - particularly: Dog lovers.
As usual, we prepare our dogs to take a car ride from our home to the UPM fair grounds where the event is held.
Our intention was just to chill out, catch up with other pet owners.

The gurl's just happy to tag along

Manning the kids
It rained heavily the night before, and I had anticipated a really soggy fair grounds.
Well, true to my prediction, the entire place as mushy.
After a 20-minute drive, we parked our car and munched on our breakfast.
Since I had to work on the Sunday, my time was very limited.
Michelle had suggested to leave by 10am, which was fine with me.
We registered at the counter and had the dogs examined by some veterinary students.
They asked a lot of questions about our Huskies.
After they were given the green light, I had to send in the registration forms.
Michelle were waiting with the kidz and immediately, the media photographers were taking snapshots of them.

Our kids getting examined by the students
After the formalities, we went down to the usual place where we chill out with the dogs.
We had time to hydrate the dogs.
The weather was fine, so, it wasn't really hot.
As we were walking the dogs around the fair grounds, we met Sam Ng, a Siberian Husky owner.
My boy never liked his male Sibe right from the start and started barking at the dog.
Michelle started to go around collecting some goodies from the booths while I took some snapshots of the kids.

This year's theme was 'Halloween'
Later, I saw a group of Siberian Husky owners who set up a place to rest their dogs.
They've planned a get-together via Facebook and went on till the event was over.
Michelle and I went around to observe the fair and decided that it was best to move on as our time-limit had lapsed.

Queenie getting her fur sprayed with frontline tick guard

The Samopack
On the whole, the Dogathon was a well-organised event.
The students were really friendly and helpful.
Michelle had left he goodie bag a park bench where we snapped photos of our kids.
A girl who was nearby located us and handed our bag over.
What a pleasant and random act of kindness.
We left the UPM fair grounds as happy dog owners and I hope that the University will continue to keep up their good tradition of organising such an interesting event..