Thursday, May 28, 2009

Friendship - Always In Bloom In My Garden

My garden is a constant reminder of friends far and near. My friends have 'adorned' my life, so too my garden. Often as I dig the soil and tend to my plants, fleeting moments rush back to the times spent together.

The sweet smell of the luxuriant climber, the passiflora, reminds me of my friend, Wanphen , in Surrey, UK. The passiflora used to adorn Wanphen's trellis near her swimming pool. Now it twists the grill fencing of my garden.

Wanphen was moving after 15 years in Kuala Lumpur and she wanted me to have the plant. She had a knack of getting one hooked to a certain plant. It's her keen observance of the 'persona' of the plant . And in a while, you already want to own one yourself! I remember loading the car with the huge pot and shoving its tangly, straggly vine into the back seat. Every bit was too precious to leave behind.

Just one bloom of the delicate tasselly flower is enough to waft its sweet smell across the garden into my patio. Somehow the flower reminds me of a lovely Malay ceremonial unbrella that shades a coy bride.

And there's Rosemarie who's somewhere in Greece. We've lost touch because she was on the move and the letters were too few. Nonetheless we had good times. I told her one day that I would like to have some of her psittacorums, my first introduction to heliconias for their colour and lushness. Her ready answer was, 'Take, take them . They're invading my living room !' Trust Rose Marie with her good humour. As I watched the psittacorum take root and grow, it was evident that there is a likelihood of them 'walking' into my patio too. So a good measure of pruning is keeping it in a thick cluster. No regrets, for year long, there's the bright yellow colour of the upright flowers to enjoy.

Shawne who's in New Jersey, USA parted with her catelyas before she left. The neighbourhood used to see Shawne quite regularly, dumb -bells in both hands and earphones plugged, striding briskly in her leg-warmers. Shawne was serious in her exercise regime. No half measures, not even in the voluntary work we used to do together.

I have to say, these friends are nature lovers and their gardens gave them so much pleasure. They shared and left a part of them behind for me to remember them. Many others have given me this and that - some have survived, some have not.

Standing just below the light shade of the red coral tree is a thriving cluster of pink ginger. At one of the Selangor and Federal Territory Gardening Soc. talks, Puan Sri Chong Hon Nyan, in her usual generous self, brought cuttings to give away. Lucky me, I got one or two to take home. Somehow, they struggled to establish. Not any more. They are looking pretty and a welcoming sight.

I daresay Puan Sri Chong is an icon among garden enthusiasts. If one has enough time to spare, she'll regale you with her vast knowledge of plants. No boring stuff, I assure you for when she speaks, Mother Nature smiles in unison. And if you linger longer when you are in her garden, chances are you'll return home a happy soul with her gardening wisdom and posibly some seeds, cuttings and even a plant in hand from the hospitable hostess.

I'm pretty sure many of us have many stories to tell - chockful of interwoven sentiments of friends and garden.

So, go ahead. Tell your stories - continue to bask in the glory of freindship.

Friends are like flowers. Gather them with love.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

it's LAT!

I've always been a fan of LAT. Still am. Malaysians relish LAT's tongue in cheek brand of humour and undoubtedly, he's our foremost cartoonist.

In her foreword on Lat ... 30 Years Later, Adibah Amin, a well- known educationist/journalist wrote, ' A child from across the seas once wrote a letter addressed to: " LAT, MALAYSIA.' The letter promptly arrived' WOW!

When my children were small, I bought Kampung Boy: Yesterday and Today and LAT, 30 Years Later to enjoy his humour. Recently I read in the New Straits Timess (NST), he has a new book, LAT, The Early Series. It has hit the bookstores . Well, one more to enjoy .

I had to look for my copies. So, I took the ladder to get to the piles of books stacked away. Dusty but intact! Thank goodness! It's a 1993 edition. and Lat is still evergreen as ever.

In Kampung ( Village in Malay) Boy: Yesterday and Today, I can read and laugh and enjoy all over and over again reminiscing the days when life was so sweetly simple , innocent and fun. His depiction of Malaysian life is so true to the core and we love him for that.

He has much to share in Lat ... 30 Years Later which traces his development as a cartoonist from 1964 to 1994. As a young boy, his road to fame was already mapped. His parents saw the budding talent and encouraged him to keep drawing. He himself never wavered as he just loved to draw.

' My father encouraged me a lot. Sometimes he'd say drawing would get me nowhere, because he wanted me to concentrate on my studies. But at the same time, he always gave me paper to draw on. I did so many drawings. Children start drawing from the age of 5, up to 11 or 12, but later on they discover other interests. In my case, at 12, even 13, I was actively drawing. And I never gave up.'

LAT's cartoons reflect his views about Malaysian life and the world. How he makes us laugh and ponder when he shows our vulnerabilities - warts and all. Mind you, he's not racial in his comics and that's so important as Malaysia is a multi-ethnic society.

Lat was honoured to be immortalised on stamps on Dec1 , 2008 depicting the iconic Kampung Boy and his many scenes of Malaysian life.

Very recently, in May, 2009, the world got to witness 3 specially commissioned short animated films featuring the outside world starring Lat's popular Kampung Boy. Alongside the programme was Charlie Chaplin's 'enduringly muddled Modern Times' with new 'live' musical score by composer and conductor, Carl Davis of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra at the Dewan Filharmonic Petronas ( DFP). Just my luck, I was in Kuching and missed it.

He was conferred the title of 'Dato' for his illustrious career. He joked,' In the olden days as a Dato' I would have come here on an elephant!'.

Here's one of LAT's recent cartoon in the NST. As usual, it's LAT at his best. An artist we truly love.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Man Who Planted Trees

If there's one poem that I would love to sing better, it's Trees by Alfred Joyce Kilmer ( 1886 -1918)

I came across this lovely piece of poem when I used to do more singing and taking lessons. Why this piece? What's the pull factor when you can see trees everyone, you might argue.

Singing this song, the beauty of trees overcome me. Nature and God inNature surround me and there I go, gazing at trees, in wonderment.

Here goes: Trees

I think that I shall never see /A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest/Against the sweet earth's flowing breast
A tree that looks at God all day/ And lifts her leafy arms to pray
A tree that may in summer wear/A nest of robins in her hair
Upon whose bosom snow has lain/Who intimately lives with rain
Poems are made by fools like me/But only God can make a tree

That shared, the wonder of trees is not over yet. An article I wrote was published in The GreenFingers newsletter of The Selangor And Federal Gardening Society.

Friends, I'd like to introduce you to Elzeard Bouffier, The Man Who Planted Trees.

The story goes that somewhere in deepest Provence, France, a shepherd, Elzeard Bouffier put his heart and soul into planting trees - 100 in the morning and 100 in the afternoon. After the deaths of his wife and son, single-handed, with only his dog as a companion, he cultivated a forest over 4 decades. What had been sparsely populated land, where nothing new except wild lavender, Bouffier transformed desolate landscape into a valley akin to the Garden of Eden.

On 11 Oct, 2008, I was in The Actors Studio in Bangsar Shopping Complex among many parents and excited kids. I was with the Sunshine ladies who volunteer their help at Selangor Cheshire Home and we were on a special outing with the disabled residents of the Home. All of us waited eagerly for the performance of 'The Man Who Planted Trees'.

Soon the 'green' message became clear. Undeterred by 2 World Wars, Bouffier kept planting , planting and more planting - oak, birch, beech ... tending the same with no thought of personal gain. He never faltered though he lost some trees to rodents and unpredictable conditions.

Image from the web

The trees grew and wondrous things occurred. Water flowed in the brooks that had been dry for many years. Life blossomed and the harsh barren land changed drastically.

Image from the web

How the audience, most of all, the children, reacted to the whistling wind, the wafting scents of the lavender, the rain mist, the birds twittering and flying above our heads on fishing rods. Truly, it was a multisensory treat.

The children loved the stick-loving puppet dog and warmed up to every antic of his. I suspect, if they could take him home, he would be THE prize, unanimously claimed!

Winner of the Total Theatre 2008 for Story Theatre

The show had its touching and sad moments too. Bouffier lived to a ripe age of 84 and died in a hospice in Banon. Few knew him as the hand and soul behind this environmental miracle.

I left the theatre warmed in my heart by the impact of this simple fabulous eco tale which reached out to the children and adults. As author, Jean Giono states, the moral message of the story is 'to make people love the trees' or more precisely, 'to make people love planting trees'.

This message is so relevant in today's world where issues of deforestation and destruction of the natural environment crop up with an alarming and increasing frequency.

The innovative staging of this eco message must imprint a certain degree of awareness and inspiration among the young and old and it further inspires those of us who are already committed to finding more ways to engage the young in spreading the 'green' message.

Let's connect with the world around us. GO GREEN!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wag tail - HOME!

A red ribbon for X'mas! ( Bag of doggie biscuits too!)

Robbie, our pet barked excitedly when some men came knocking on his door, so to speak.

It was time to get some work done on his kennel. Imagine, his home is 28 years old !! Sturdy and spacious, it has withstood the years and the elements of sun and rain. The only signs of aging were a couple of planks and rusting metal frame.

In fact Robbie 'inherited ' this home. The previous owners were our Alsatians, Czarina and Ninja. Suzie, our daschund didn't sleep in one. The kennel also has travelled from suburb to suburb with our moving.

He got all excited when he saw the men tearing down his house. We had to let him loose. But he didn't seem to mind the noise of the drill nor the sparks flying from the welding gun.The old green coat was soon covered with timber colour. Old planks were replaced with some hardwood again. Made to last! And the legs of metal frame on which the kennel sits were lowered.

You see, Robbie is getting on. Yup, he'll be 10 on 23 Sept. Hang on! Do I hear you say , 'Are you kidding me?' He looks bright and sparkly.

Well, I have to admit he's ' a handsome boy!' Auntie May always pays him this compliment. Add to this, she gave me a book on one of my birthdays. Guess what? Marley and Me, of course!!

Only problem is his legs aren't so steady. So, Robbie boy, we're making it easier for you to get in and out of the kennel by lowering the frame.

Robbie's real name is Deep Purple and was whelped down south in Johore. He found his way into our home by accident, meaning we adopted him from a lovely couple. Not that they love Robbie less. Robbie's 'parents' had to move into condo living and hearing that our Ninja had passed away, Robbie had a home ready for him.

My husband fell in love with Robbie the minute he set sight on him. What can one say ? As a kid, he had goldfish, birds and dogs for pets. Robbie soon became and still is, the darling of our children.

Other dog owners on their evening walks with their pets pop by to give him a friendly rub or two at the gate. Robbie, of course, laps it up and stays quiet. A little boy used to call out his name . He waited for Robbie to appear before he was satisfied. That evening, when the rain came, Robbie got into his almost brand new abode.

Woof! Woof! Wag tail , Home!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sunday at Sartok Market

Before departing Kuching, there was one more stopover for the local flavour - the colourful Sartok market. A taxi ride costing RM12.00 got us there in no time.

The market is an open space with many stalls and colourful canopies. The locals were there early for the freshest pick and many carried rattan baskets and the odd push -along trolleys

Legs in the air!

Talcum, toothpaste, shampoo, whatever packaged

Local biscuits for snacks

Be ready to be surprised. A man was selling bags of fishes . I thought them to be fighting fish, only bigger in size than those I kept as a child. I was wrong. He explained they have the power to ward off bad mischief/ evil doers !

Herbs from the jungle

What caught my attention was the variety of herbs being sold at the vegetable stalls. Some appeared rather strange looking. But if you are curious, go ahead and ask the sellers. They'd only be glad to tell you what it is and how to cook them

Dried foodstuff - anchovies, salted fish etc

Seashells, big and small

Beautiful orchids

There's enough to write a book from the variety on display. Not only that. Think of the wonderful aromatic curries, ulams and the endless dishes to whet one's appetite. After all, herbs make up a great part of the cuisine in this part of the world.

I couldn't resist bringing home some ? midgin, one of the popular herbs. We had them cooked 2 different styles - with garlic and belachan ( shrimp paste) at the Topspot Seafood Place near the hotel. See, somethings beg to tried more than once!

Just take your time and browse through the pictures I've taken. Familiar scenes? food?

The faithful sugarcane thresher machine

Candy floss to tempt tastebuds

Apam balik ( local pancakes with peanut topping)

Cockerels on show

The Sartok market was certainly a leisurely wander . Then it was time to lug the suitcase home to K.L.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sarawak Cultural Village

Be prepared to be astounded by the diversity that the Sarawak Cultural Village has to offer when you visit Kuching.

Besides the feline fame of this 'Cat City', the Sarawak Cutural Village is one of the top attractions .

We had an early start. Already the place was thronged with buses and more buses and vans.

Situated at the foothills of the legendary Mt Santubong, this village enlightens the visitors with its 7 authentic ethnic houses built around a man -made lake all under one vast expanse.

As we entered the different houses, we were transported into different unique worlds. The friendly people delighted us with their daily activities - beading, singing, cooking, crafting etc. And for a small fee, we bought a few local delicacies cooked there and then.

Making local kueh ( charcoal fire )

Local medications - arthritis, toothache etc

Dressing up a lass in the Bidayuh costume

Spinning top (gasing) secure, ready to throw

Such a showcase of the different cultures of the people of Sarawak - Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Orang Ulu, Penan, Chinese and Malay can only tell the wonderful stories of times gone by and into the present.

Spinning top - on my palm

I was quite determined to spin the top ( gasing). But how? With a good dose of help from the guru (teacher), I did ! Then I asked for the top to spin on my palm. He willingly obliged - spun the top for me and I had to flatten my palm ... hooray!

Melanau Long House

Anthoni pointing to the props ( Melanau Long House)

Iban Long House

For 3 tries (RM1.00), my husband tried the blowpipe at the Penan hut. Good attempts to hit the target but he needed more - whatever living breath he has !

Penan with his blowpipe

So much more came alive when we sat ourselves down together with the crowds at the Dewan Legenda , a mini theatre to watch the dances and songs in a special showcase. It was color galore with the musical instruments used to their best advantage. The entertainers also infused some humour to get us together as one.

To round off an amazing display of the arts, the visitors were invited on stage to do the joget . And what better song to sing to close a lovely time other than one of our favourite Malaysian songs , Rasa Sayang. That lifted our spirits even higher.

Bidayuh lady and her woven craft

I hear the fame of the village has spread far and wide as the Sarawak Rainforest Music Festival is a happening event there. People across continents gather every July to showcase their traditional music, world fusion and contemporary world music.

Iban Dance

So, that's another added attraction for an easy going city of friendly people, Kuching.