Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rest and relax at Mandara Spa

That particular morning when I made my way to the Mandara Spa, Sunway Hotel Resort and Spa, I was the lone soul on the path that seemed to take me to some hideaway! Nevertheless, I got to pause and enjoy the lush greenery, the quiet surroundings and took some pics too. At the end of the 10 minute walk, Mandara Spa came into view - its low roof barely seen among the lush greenery. I was greeted by several lovely smiling ladies.

It was a lucky raffle draw at the December ABWM Charity Bazaar that got me a wonderful voucher to pamper myself. The smart looking voucher says 80 mins of Balinese massage for a sensory experience. Well, it was an offer I couldn't refuse!!

It certainly was peaceful inside this plush haven of Mandara Spa. Seeing the neat looking ladies who seemed to exude an air of serenity themselves, seriously I thought I was the odd frazzled being in their midst!! All the more so, I was ready to have the massage. Reni, my therapist gave a welcome drink of chilled ginger tea and a nice cool towel to freshen my face and hands. A promising start for what's to come later.

A native Balinese, Reni, in her soft -spoken voice, explained the different aromatheraphy massage oil blends that I could opt for: ( per brochure)

Mandara - sandalwood, patchouli, cananga and ylang ylang oils. Our signature blend is romantic and uplifting.

Island spice - a spicy mix of clove, ginger and nutmeg oils to stimulate , revitalise and brighten your spirits.

Harmony - mandarin, lavender and bergamot oils to balance body and mind. Strengthening and rejuvenating.

Tranquillity - stress reducing blend of lavender, vetiver and cananga oils to impart a sense of serenity. An effective jetlag tonic.

Then she escorted me to one of the 10 rooms for massage, located in a serene, green garden. All the rooms are named after flowers and I stepped inside Frangipani.

Before long, I was relaxed and feeling so comfortable on the massage bed. The Mandara aromatheraphy massage was working! I could feel the drumming of my heart beat 'soften' and an inner calm creeping in as the massage progressed. Everything helped with the cosseting - the essential oils , the soothing, lilting Balinese music coupled with Reni applying her skills to knead away knotty muscles and tensions in the body. There was no mistaking the expert glide of a good therapist's hands. All the skin rolling, kneading, acupressure, reflexology made many magical moments. 'Yes, this is life!' Why wait to pamper yourself?

Some people just enjoy regular massages and they swear by the benefits, both physical and mental - proven by scientific research. Others may not be so inclined for whatever reasons of their own. One of feeling ticklish when stroked by the therapist.

Soon the 80 minutes ticked away and it was time to pick myself up (reluctantly) when Reni gave me a gentle wakeup call. Not that I slept but I was feeling sooo relaxed. It was great! A drink of chilled water ended the session of Balinese massage.

I thanked Reni and her colleagues. Then I strolled back to the main building, a lone soul again, soaking in the greenery once more before I headed for home, feeling much relaxed.

p.s. I was an early bird. The Mandara Spa is busy and clients need to book for appointments.

Sunway Resort Hotel & Spa
Persiaran Lagoon
Bandar Sunway 46150
Petaling Jaya
Selangor Darul Ehsan


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Steve McCurry's Travels through the Muslim World

Banner outside the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia : A COMMON FAITH/Steve McCurry's Travels through the Muslim World

I've heard of Steve McCurry and his fame as a photojournalist. We recognise the photo he gave the world - that of the Afghan girl, Sharbat Gula. So when I found out that there's an exhibition at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM), titled A COMMON FAITH/ Steve McCurry's Travels through the Muslim World, I gladly wanted to find out more.

In Gallery 1 on the ground floor of the IAMM, Steve's travels through the many countries in the Islamic world unfolded before my eyes.

Steve McCurry has won many accolades worldwide for his fine photography. On the brochure is a brief introduction to the man behind the evocative images.

'Steve McCurry, recognised universally as one of the today's finest image makers, has won many of photography's top awards. Best known for his evocative colour photography, McCurry captures the human struggle and joy. He has searched for and found the unforgettable, many of his images have become modern icons...'

Brochure showing some of Steve McCurry's photos : from the top left hand corner: Agra, India, 1963/ Lal Dal, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1996/ Uttar Pradesh, India,1999/ Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1992/ Shibam, Wadi Hadhramaut, Yemen,1999/ Karachi, Pakistan,1985/ Srinagar, Kashmir,1996/ Mauretania,1986.

The photos on display show images from Indonesia, Mauretania, Mali, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Steve's interests lie in people. Images show the human face living a life in their difficult situations.

In war-torn Afghanistan, there are varied scenes of life - children playing on abandoned anti - aircraft . Where else can they play ? To climb and amuse themselves ? A photo also shows a man selling jackets titled Jacket Seller - Kabul 2002. I counted - 12 jackets on his own shoulders to sell. Young Soldier -Kabul 1993 shows the world a young man all armoured and ready to fight his enemies - children like him made to fight in wars. As with all wars, the silence of the many, many graves speak as in Snow covered cemetery - Kabul 1992.

When I returned from the exhibition, I googled Steve McCurry. I learned more about him and how his adventurous spirit took him to India. In 1979, he crossed the Pakistan border into rebel - controlled Afghanistan. There he met some Afghan refugees in the small village of Chitral, N. Pakistan. They wanted him to tell the world the atrocities. McCurry moved among them in native garb and smuggled out rolls of films sewn in his clothes. It was then that news broke for the world to see and hear the conflict there. In 1980, McCurry won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad, an award dedicated to photographers showing exceptional courage and performance.

To find out more about Steve McCurry, please visit his blog. Here he shares his views on why the US have not learned their lesson. In his words , '... That tells me that many do not understand the country, the history, the people, the terrain, the language , the religion, the culture.'

I soon came to the photo of Sharbat Gula , the Afghan girl with the sea-green eyes that stared hauntingly from the cover of National Geographic, June 1985. It's interesting to know that Steve McCurry and the crew from National Geographic Television and Film went to Pakistan and finally found her in January 2002 after some searching around Nasir Bagh, the refugee camp where the photograph was taken. Though 17 years had passed, without a shadow of doubt, Steve McCurry recognised her.The world got to see Sharbat Gula , about 30 years old, now a woman with a family. Also, the world got to know much more about Sharbat Gula and her life. She is no more a face that intrigued - we now know her name. Later high tech iris and facial recognition tests confirmed the same person.

The exhibition is on till 8 April. I'm glad as it will give many the chance to view Steve McCurry's world renowned work and his lifelong passion in depicting humanity. So hurry there...

'If you wait, people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.'- Steve McCurry

Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
Jalan Lembah Perdana
50480 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603 2274 2020Fax: +603 2274 0529

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Paper lama man

You hear him before you see him! Over the loudspeaker, his cries of ' Paper lama, Paper lama. Old Newspaper! Old newspaper!' ring out loud to signal his presence in the neighbourhood. He's our itinerant collector of recycled paper ( others may ask for all types of paper). Some come on tricycles, while those who can afford a van/lorry, come calling on households in the different townships to eke out an eco - friendly living .

I've forgotten when these familiar figures first appeared on the scene. Initially, there was a kind of curiosity and very soon they became a welcome sight as they go about their small businesses . Demand for recycled paper has taken a leap and a viable business is born!

Mr Lim and others, like him is a recognised figure in residential neighbourhoods. The modus operandi is simple - make regular rounds to buy old newspaper from households and sell them to the recycling plant. Some 'paper lama' vendors also trade in used car batteries .

The rain had just ceased and it dampened his spirit a bit. With his trolley, he helped me get 2 loads of old newspaper from my store in the porch into his van. It was half stacked with papers already and Mr Lim was making his rounds in Damansara and Petaling Jaya.

Mr Lim was camera -shy and was not comfortable with full- front pictures. However, he was relaxed when we spoke about the business at hand.

A typical day for him starts at 9 am till 5pm, rain or shine. He drives around the residential areas at a slow speed. Sometimes he has to make an abrupt stop as he has bypassed a resident and he pulls back to the gateway of the house. There, he faithfully pushes his trolley to cart the load of papers to his van. Payment for the papers is mutual - the vendor assesses the quantity and pays the 'current' rate. I have never quibbled about the payment as it is a win-win situation! He sends all the paper collected to a recycling centre in Petaling Jaya where the newspaper is used to make newsprint and paperboard. Previously there was a main recycling centre in Kepong.

He laments that people used to buy 3 dailies but these days, it's only one. Moreover, with internet access and information at their fingertips, people do not find the need to source news from the papers. His business has also decreased as schools give their recycled newspapers to the main dealer. That cuts off his source of income.

Business is usually a brisk affair but that morning, with the chat , it lingered a bit. Mr Lim was eager to resume his rounds 'coz the day had barely started for him. Till the next collection round, here's to our convenient collection agent- our very own 'paper lama man'!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Our street names

When I became a member of the MNS (Malaysian Nature Society) some 17 years ago, on our way to an MNS outing, my MNS friend, affectionately called Uncle Foo, pointed to a road sign Jalan Beringin. ' Do you know beringin is the name of a tree? And there's more .' He proceeded to point out more names of trees as we drove along.

Uncle Foo is never short of stories or knowledge about nature , be it about birds ( an avid bird-watcher himself) or passing on general information. He taught me how to view through a pair of binoculars and I bought my first with his help. He shares whenever he can.

He brought my attention to the roads in Bukit Bandaraya , Bangsar Baru and Damansara Heights since he used to live there. The streets in these neighbourhoods abound with examples of tree themes.

How often do we just address an envelope and not give any thought to names. In some towns, street names follow the type of activity of the area like Jalan Masjid (mosque), Jalan Makhamah (court house), Jalan Panggung (cinema) , Jalan Hospital.

Thematic street names are also quite commonly named after prominent people . For example in the suburb of Taman Tun Dr Ismail names like like Athinappan, Leong Yew Kow, Tun Mohd Fuad, Burhanuddin Helmi, Abang Hj. Openg. These personalities are honoured for the services they rendered to the country. In some neighbourhoods the streets have flowers, colours etc as their themes.

Here's my jaunt around Bukit Bandaraya and Damansara Heights to highlight some tree street names. I had some fun and game, so to speak, clicking my camera on the street names. Just when I thought all was clear on the road and safe to stand back a little for the picture, around the corner zoomed vehicles. Then I thought , if only my friends could see me now - a 'zombie' zooming from road to road and clicking on oblong road signs! At several spots I had to park and walk to the junctions where the street signs are positioned.

Beringin ( ficus benjamina) is a specie of the fig tree which is native to South and South East Asia. One can never fail to see aerial roots descend from the branches to the ground and these form secondary trunks. The beringin has an invasive root system and the bark is is pale grey with large dark green leaves. It bears round, red berries.

Keruing ( dipterocarpus sp. ) is a medium hardwood and a dominant specie of the lowland primary forest. It is widely grown in the Indo- Malaysian region. It reaches up to a height of 45 metre. The tree is grown for its timber to make furniture, flooring and decking beams. The Orang Asli make jungle torch using the resin of the keruing tree.

Tualang ( Koompassia excelsa) or colloquially known as the honey bee tree, is a majestic emergent tree of South East Asia rainforest . It is one of the tallest tropical tree species and is a member of the legume family and related to peas . Huge buttress roots support its weight. Very often, large combs of wild bees are found on the branches.

Penaga ( Calopyyhllum inophyllum) is a slow - growing, beautiful tree with fragrant flowers. It is found in non -swampy , sandy beaches and rocky shores.

The picture was taken at the MNS Headquarters, Jalan Kelantan. The jelutong tree is part of the Nature Trail.

Jelutong (Dyera costulata), a hardwood tree with an unbuttressed trunk grows to 60 -80 metre tall in the tropical rainforest. Its straight grain, low density and fine texture properties are popular with model makers. Its roots are used as a cork substitute . Previously it was an important source of chewing gum.

Here are a few more street names as you drive along Bangsar Baru/ Bukit Bandaraya .Do look out for the names. Mind the traffic though!

bangkung ( Artocarous integer)

jejawi ( Ficus microcarpa)

tempinis (Streblus elongatus)

turi ( Sesbania grandiflora)

Many a tree is found in the wood
And every tree for its use is good
Some for the strength of the gnarled root
Some for the sweetness of flowers or fruit
-Henry Van Dyke ( 'Salute The Trees')

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Maggie's Chinese ink art

Poised with her brush

My friend, Maggie has not lost the love for Chinese ink painting since she picked up the brush 12 years ago. 'It was the love to draw since I was young that made me pursue this art form.' Looking at her collection of works, I must say, she has done well to satisfy her inner spiritual needs.

One of her favourite pieces - 'hang it in the kitchen for good luck'.

She recalls the earliest days when it was just holding the brush correctly and practising strokes that go up and down, and sideways! Imagine the tedium. Any impatient soul would just chuck it away and not look at Chinese ink painting anymore! But under the guidance of her sifu, Chong Cheng Chuan, she persisted. One of her earlier pieces depicted chickens. And she was utterly surprised that someone liked one of the chicken pieces and paid RM200.

An earlier piece - who can forget the chickens that got sold??

Really, for Maggie, it's not about money at all. Since then, nothing has been sold but it does not bother her. Her technique has really improved and she is proud of herself. Her sifu has taken a few of her pieces to exhibit in China and Singapore.

Maggie and her husband, Mr Ho, Sifu Chong Cheng Chuan at the centre where she paints. To the right of Maggie is her art piece for a recent exhibition.

'I can do better,' she says. 'It also depends on the mood.' That's artisitic reality. It's hard not to feel unsettled when she draws in public at exhibitions but this is all an accepted part of training. She proceeded to show me how the lines are captured - when to increase the intensity and when to lift the brush for the 'light' touch, all the while being in a relaxed frame of mind to execute the desired effects.

'The flow is important' - a piece on Chinese orchid

With her neighbour, they have been attending classes regularly, once a week. Practice should be daily but it seems to be a struggle so it happens only twice or thrice a week. The young and the old come together to the sifu's class in Cheras to learn this art . The youngest is 6 years and the oldest, 70 years. They try their skills on popular subjects - scenery, fish, bamboo and plum blossom.

I have to marvel at Maggie's achievements for after a full day's work in the office, she gathers her tools to relax and unwind in her hobby till it's time to have a good night sleep. She especially loves to draw fish - be it carp, angel or gold fish.

Maggie gave me an art piece a few years ago to accompany my telling of an old tale from China,'The Magic Paint Brush' to the kids during my storytelling sessions. The kids and parents will gush with admiration when they see it. That's when I tell them about my friend, Maggie , the artist.

Floral piece of plum blossoms and chrysanthemums

Tools : ink of different colours, brushes, big, small, fat, thin, rice paper and palette

Maggie's most recent achievement

Old works - many hours of practices

One thing she's ever so thankful for is her husband's advice to make great effort to learn how to write her name in Chinese. That seals her own piece of achievement. Last of all, comes the bright red seal with her name inscribed on it.

What about any word of advice for aspiring artists? --'Be patient. Passion will get you there.'

Yes,without any doubt, Maggie has sealed her talent there.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Faces of KL

I am a citizen of Kuala Lumpur. I call it home ever since the day I got married, at the Raja Rajeswary Temple, Jalan Ampang.

Atop the small mound, the 'ayer' chanted, ' Blessings ! Blessings ! Shower upon them, Almighty! The thaali was tied and the mrindagam, tabla, nadeswaran all created a happy din! His home , KL was mine henceforth. KL has given me everything - my creature comforts and a home with new beginnings. Importantly, this is where my husband and I have raised our family of 3 kids. We've crossed borders ourselves, steeped in different cultures and practices , enriching our lives among the multi -ethnic citizens of KL.

The city throbs long after I go to bed. It pursues a frenetic pace rushing headlong into the millennium to make its stand among other cities in the world . It has come a long way from its early beginnings and the original pioneers could not have known how its location has smiled favourably upon it. Indeed, fortune smiled upon the growth of KL from its first days and today, KL continues to thrive - a metropolitan city of 1.6 million people.

It stands unique - a city so diverse and dynamic. Its people, their faces embody the spirit and soul of KL. There are so many stories to tell and their stories cross borders and they ask for understanding for them to be heard.

It is not surprising that first -time visitors take a little time to adjust to the diversity and wonders of what makes a Malaysian!

Even for a KLite myself, there are surprising revelations as I stroll around KL. I guess it's the spirit that lives in us that changes the pulse of the place and the people who live in them. On a plane, you see nothing, on a motorway you see the backend of the lorry in front. Come, join me and let the faces of KL 'tell' their stories. There's more if we can sit down over a cuppa!

Bounce, jump, twirl, spin
Life is so merry and free
Because of you, I'm happy
Because of you, I'm gay
Mum and dad,
You make my day!

My son's getting married
The bride's a gem
Not arranged, just love at first sight!
Lucky thing, she's just right
At least his papa and I can sleep right!

Hey world! get ready!
We're the Champs!
Our desire is BIG
Our talents HUGE
Our commitment SOLID
So, here we come- world!

Beauty is skin deep
Some say yes, some disagree
Look at us
Creams, lotions make us beautiful
We stick by that!
But do not forget the smiles, the warmth
To bring it to your face.

Always greet your customers with a smile
It will go more than miles
'Coz they'll come back
To be clothed for the 'kill '
And that will ring your till!

Just ask politely
Do not be scared
The law of the land
Is also your helping hand

They say, grandad, take life easy
Well, by now I think I'm good at it!
I think of the days, what lies ahead
I haven't any answer
It's not in my head!

Hello, there! glad you called
Come over for curry
Hey! and don't be in a hurry
I have lots to tell
Let's make merry
'Coz I'm getting married!

Here I sit, on my haunch
Silently, eyes roving
Watching the world go by
They say life's a stage
And we're merely players
Well, here I am in MidValley Mall
Watching all.

Kopi tiam is not a word
It is my hangout.
Have a tete- tete
With teh tarik and mee
Time to meet my friends
Share and tell

Words of wisdom, words of faith
Prayers over, Friday noon
Time to share, be at peace
O Lord, Almighty!
We're grateful we are at peace.

She ain't heavy, she's my sis-in-law
Over the years, our paths entwine
Over time , our love endures
God bless my sis-in-law

Did you hear the new Bollywood movie is town?
Let's make it there tonight, brother
Let the dances and songs ease our worries
See you there, tonight
No worries!

Sweet sister, be my friend
I may not know what lies ahead
But I know it's fun to play
Let's do it together
Forever and a day

Mum says to dress pretty
That's what a growing lass does best.
Feathers for my hair, necklace round my neck
If boys still can't spot me
What the heck!

One and all, these faces are the faces of 1 Malaysia. Take a stroll around KL - there's no better way to get to know the city and her people than to mingle and see with your own eyes. They will take you straight to the heart of the local experience. I found them along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, in a nasi padang shop, SOGO shopping mall, Semua House , Madras store, Jalan Masjid India, MidValley mall, Bangsar and Bukit Damansara - a microcosm of KL's rich tapestry.