Monday, March 29, 2010

Giraffes Can't Dance

All the way from the UK, The Blunderbus Theatre Company .

Having read the story, Giraffes Can't Dance to some kids at one of my storytelling sessions, it was a wonderful opportunity to catch Gerald in the 'flesh' at the musical play. Also, it was the grandest, not-to -be -missed chance to take a few residents from Selangor Cheshire Home for a special outing with my Sunshine friend, Leni. The last time we were out for a puppet performance was when The Man Who Planted Trees was playing at the old venue of Actors Studio in Bangsar.

The specially outfitted van can only accommodate 6 residents, three in wheelchairs and 3 walking aided with a frame and a caretaker. We met them at the entrance of PJLA really well ahead of time at 9.15 am.

They say the early bird catches the worm?

A ticket each, all in jubilant mood. Thanks to Linda of SCBWI (Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators) for offering 2 tickets to Leni and me.

Count us in! Anyone can be a kid all over again!

Everyone was excited. They were assured of a truly memorable enjoyment, even without my seeing it live yet. I like the book so much to stake my claim !!

We were the first in for ease of seating arrangments. The residents in their wheelchairs were comfortably placed by the usherers. Before long, troops of kids, really little ones, hand in hand, filed into the auditorium. Soon the hall was filled with lively chatter - the kids in school uniforms, were bubbling with excitement. It was so infectious. The teachers tried to calm them as some were standing on the seats. The kids were from 6 different schools.

In Giraffes Can't Dance, the cast brings to life Giles Andreae's spirited story with their huge, handsome handcrafted puppets. Together with the lyrical prose of Giles Andreae, the play injects music and lively movements to capture our hearts.

Shy Gerald who towers above all the heads of the animals finds it hard to fit in among the jungle animals. He is quite alone. Why? His bandy legs do not make him a favourite. How the animals mock him when he shows up at the annual Jungle Dance. While the warthogs, baboons, chimpanzees, lions boogie away, poor Gerald cuts a sad and lonesome creature.

'Giraffes can't dance, you silly fool. Oh, Gerald, don't be daft!' Luckily, a cricket friend encourages Gerald to do it his own way . Says the cricket, ' But sometimes when you're different / You need a different song.' Gerald just needs to find his own beat and tune to dance to. A miracle happens when Gerald begins to believe in himself and dances marvellously.

There was great interactivity with the kids by the antics of the cast - Gerald hiding among them, a butterfly hovering on someone's head, playful chimpanzees squirting water with water pistols at them and, oh! some playful messing of someone's head too!

I was caught to 'party' and dance with the animals. Don't ask me what animal I was . I just danced like a pro! I tickled the chimpanzee who came by. Yes, I got squirted at!! I touched the soft wings of the butterfly. See, I'm really a kid !

The play was so vibrant, fun and colourful. The huge puppets got a high five from me for props. The kids got to see the person behind the puppet as he was not all covered up from head to toe. For the young audience of 4 -8 years old, the play was just right, with a simple storyline and enough engaging little bits of storytelling interspersed to make it so wholesome.

Theatre for kids is no kid's play! Catch the odd adults (usually parents, grandmas ) and they are living their childhood moments all over again! As for the residents of Selangor Cheshire Home, shaking hands and giving Gerald a high five sealed off the great moments rarely enjoyed. Their wide grins and thumbs -up sign said it all. So, bring on more kids' theatre !

Show's over but Gerald is TOPS!

Penny, in a special moment with Claire Hills who is our loveable Gerald the Giraffe

Monday, March 22, 2010

Serving the needy - Klinik Derma SivaSanta

Bharatnyatam dancers of TFA - Pushpanjali - a welcome dance

As I sat among the audience listening to the speeches at the opening of the Carnival - Food, Folks and Fun, a big fund raising event for the SivaSanta Medical Camp, organised by the Temple of Fine Arts(TFA), a few things struck me: 1) Volunteerism is much alive - hearts are 'big' and love is in their hearts 2) everyone can contribute in their own way to a worthy cause 3) commitment makes dreams come true.

I got to know the humble beginnings of this medical camp which was started by TFA's founder, His Holiness Swami Shantanand. A service that was housed in a small cabin since 1982, Klinik Derma SivaSanta, the community healthcare arm has spread its wings to better equipped premises. The urban poor/underprivileged continue to receive free services under TFA's welfare project.

A dedicated team of volunteers and doctors keeps the wheels of service a-churning through the years. Between year 2000 - 2008, it has served 58,000 patients. Volunteer doctors work from 6.30 pm - 9 pm and daily about 25 patients benefit from their selfless service.

Since 1992, the outreach has grown wider as a mobile service was started. People like the orang asli, villagers and folks in small towns who can ill afford medical attention are attended to. Up and down the country, the mobile service calls on the the doorsteps of the patients on a monthly basis. Medical camps are held in schools and community halls. Annually, there is the blood donation drive which is of immeasurable help to hospitals.

With the volunteers in full force, this Carnival hopes to raise RM400,000 to expand services to provide eyecare, gynaecological, endocrinological services and a dialysis centre. In the words of the organising chairman, 'for it to be a sanctuary of love and care for those in pain.' Noble words shining through.

Only committed dedication and selfess service by the volunteers are able to see the fruition of a community service even when the economy wanes. Most importantly, it's a service that cuts across all barriers - irrespective of race and ethnicities. This was emphasized by the FT and Urban Well-Being Minister, Datuk Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin who graced the occasion. The Hon. Minister duly congratulated the TFA for its monumental efforts of caring for 130,000 needy over the last 20 years!

I enjoyed the dances tremendously and the atmosphere of the Carnival. Variety in the entertainment, food and fun galore all point towards a successful Carnival for a good cause.

My eyes were glued to the vibrant and colourful dance from Rajasthan .

Dancers from ASWARA entertained with a lively dance Zapin Dayung

Volunteers with home-made cakes and cookies. Stall serving vegetarian delights - the public were spoilt for choices.

This was part of my lunch. Couldn't resist the poster which says' best nasi lemak in town'!

Brass, stone and or metal ornaments for the house. Every ringgit counts for the new clinic.

A day for little ones too - games and henna painting.

Kick away and score!

Kelinik Derma SivaSanta
128, Jalan Berhala
Brickfields, KL

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Senses ALIVE in Taman Sari !

Angela ( in black) during the introduction

Part of the Rimbun Dahan landscape

Such a welcoming 'foyer'

Angela Hijjas was our perfect guide and host on the morning the MCG (Malaysian Culture Group)members visited Rimbun Dahan. For most of the visitors, it was a first time experience that will stay in their memories for a long time. The 14 acre Rimbun Dahan with its art studios, restored village house, underground art gallery, artist's accommodation, a classic car garage, the Hijjas family home, staff quarters and garden of indigenous plants can only blow your mind away with all it has to offer.

After a brief introduction by Sue, the coordinator of the tour, Angela Hijjas guided us to to Taman Sari, the herb and spice garden near the main house.

As a garden enthusiast myself, I know that it's a labour of love to keep a garden thriving. Angela certainly has her pulse on the plants growing there. Her knowledge of the 100 species of herbs impressed us.

'Here smell this. It's the nutmeg.' We stood by the tree, lush with dense foliage and the fruits, globular -like. The fruit was halved and passed around the ladies. The red mace is indeed attractive! Looking around, it was an awakening of senses ! The exuberant expressions told me so. Personally, I love the nutmeg and never fail to bring home some nutmeg products during a visit to Penang.

A garden nurtured to this stage is a blessing. Wow, so many herbs and spices at her disposal without having to run to the local market and not finding it there. I plant a few myself - serai, kesum, curry leaf, limau purut, mint, limau kasturi, misai kuching, kunyit, chili, kayu manis, cananga odorata, papaya, mulberry That's all my garden space can fit, I think! The main thing is to keep everything growing and alive.

In this serene haven, Angela shared her knowledge. Gardeners in Malaysia struggle with the clayey soil but Angela has succeeded in making compost in the early days of Rimbun Dahan to create a good balance for a promising start to Taman Sari.

Now and then, Angela sprinkled some spicy info about Malay customs with regards to herbs.The sepenoh/euricles amboinensis is a magic plant. Malays use leaves in magic brush to sprinkle consecrated rice gruel in harvesting, fishing and wedding ceremonies. The plant is believed to expel ghosts and evil spirits from the house. The medicinal and culinary wealth of the herbs and spices is evident in this garden space.

Having spiced our walk in Taman Sari, Angela kept up the tempo in the other areas of Rimbun Dahan. What's a forty five minute drive to Angela's Rimbun Dahan? Nothing to speak of! We enjoyed such a nourishing morning for the soul in the arts and the plants! Thank you, Angela!

What's inside is indeed attractive. The lacy red mace is so lovely. So much to enjoy from the pala or nutmeg / myristica fragrans) : fruit pickled as food, shoot eaten as vegetable with rice and to treat hypertension; red mace for flavouring fish and cakes ; kernel gives commercial nutmeg ; oil is medicinal . The nutmeg originating from the Banda islands of Indonesia were grown in plantations on Penang island by the British when the spice was one of the most valuable commodities in the world.

As we walked round the garden, we smelled the different herbs shown to us.Tear a little of the leaves or crush them lightly, then smell -the daun kesum, the limau purut, etc. Of course, it smelt strange and new to some of the ladies who have not come across these herbs in the tropics. The consensus among the visitors is Malaysia is blessed super rich in flora. Indeed, our biodiversity is one of our natural treasures.

All eyes up for the pinang sireh / betel nut/areca catechu. The seed treats diarrhoea. The sliced endosperm of the seed is eaten with betel leaves, lime, gambier. I remember an old Indian maid of ours who used to have red lips chewing on this! It used to give her the little 'highs'.
For the Malays, the offering of the pinang sireh symbolizes the purity of the bride. Should it be discovered after the wedding, the bride is not a virgin, the pinang sireh is overturned! This precise function of the pinang sireh does not exist today.

Neat garden with herbs, over 100 species

The limau purut/citrus hystrix under the nose . The leaf is an essential ingredient in cooking. The rind is used in ubat jamu to drive away evil spirits, worms in children and headaches.

The aroma defines the herb. Spices enhance/improve flavour and boost appetite.

The pegaga/ Indian pennywort,(centella asisstica) in Malaysia is synonymous with ulam /salad herb. A ulam dish is not complete without it. The pegaga is valued all over the world both for the fresh consumption in stimulating appetite and the medicinal properties like treating sores, ulcers and skin problems.
Ulams/salad herbs add variety to meals and are a major source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Do not be deceived . Some of the ulams are 'weeds' in our garden while some are ornamental or garden plants which never crossed our minds they can be eaten!

The mulberry fruits

ps. Please click on the website on the right hand sidebar for more of Rimbun Dahan.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fish on your platter?

(Image from the web)

In the Chinese restaurants, you might see some tanks with live fish . So, you get to pick your choicest. The attendant scoops it with a net and and disappears into the kitchen. Then you wait, sip cups of tea and chat. How gleefully you and your guests greet the nice platter of steamed fish! Hmmm... the aroma of the ginger, shaoxing wine(chinese rice wine), and light soya sauce and the spring onion sitting atop the white flesh of the steamed fish whets the palate!

I'm talking about the soon hock, also known as marble goby or ikan ketutu, (Oxyeleotris marmoratus) one of the most expensive table fish in Malaysia.

My friend, May and I happen to witness the soon hock - babies and adult under the tender loving care of Mr R. It was a surprising 'discovery' that morning. We were looking for plants and we found fish - soon hock in different surroundings, scientific and sterile.

The natural habitat of the soon hock is the brackish waters of the streams, canals and lakes. This predatory fish is found in many Asian countries including Malaysia Now, there's a growing industry of rearing it in ponds and former mining pools. Soon hock is successfully spawned and reared under artificial conditions. However, the mortality is high during the larval stages. It is a major problem in the mass production of this species.

Thought I'd share our encounter with Mr R who gave us a peek into his daily routine of minding soon hock fingerlings. We didn't linger long as Mr R was busy and we were his unexpected visitors! We thanked him for sharing his work with us. Cheekily I wished him well with his 'babies' !!

The fingerlings are so tiny I had to squint my eyes to cries of, ' Where? Where? Oh! I see them!' Detecting the quite colourless ones in the water can be a little tricky - barely 3 weeks old. Food like algae is given to a different population in each pail , to chart the growth. Others which have grown bigger are easy to spot.

Looking after his 'babies'. Mr R is seen changing the water. He explains this is necessary to prevent a build-up of ammonia which will cause the fish to die.

Mr R's interest in marine biology keeps him busy a few days in this lab. He works closely with the researcher, keeping data and carrying out the necessary care of the fish.

Many buckets in the lab - all well utilized for the experiments.

Months into years of research to cultivate the soon hock for the commercial market.

I thought the plastic tubes were just to serve as resting places. More to this. The hollows are for the soon hock which tend to be solitary. Some were seen hiding inside the tubes.

One of the mating pair in another tank.

The other partner of the mating pair in the tank. Isn't he handsome? Note his large head, symmetrical patterning on the dorsal surface and on the rounded outstretched pectoral fins. He hardly moved as we watched him.

Feeding time for the immature soon hock. Frozen bloodworm is fed to the fish in the tank.

The lump of frozen bloodworm slowly breaking up. This causes a stir among the fish. And they swim to gulp their food.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ismail and Naive Art

It was a good outing for me when I bumped into Ismail Hj Baba. Certainly a bonus to have an artist enthusing his art to me, a casual visitor to his stall. I was pleasantly surprised to see an artist at work, sandwiched among stalls promoting batik at the Hari Kraf Kebangsaan (National Craft Day)at Kraftangan, Conlay. Ismail was painting a landscape of houses in acrylic on canvas. He welcomed me warmly as my eyes roved the exhibits.

We got talking. 'So,you're a naive artist!' To my next question, 'How do you define naive art?', he explained that it is a child-like art. I told him my friend and illustrator for my book, My Shop and My Best Friend, Nur Azmi, is one too.

For 30 years, Ismail was in the hotel industry as an in-house artist. Really it was the well -known Yusof Gajah who introduced Ismail to this art .'He's my sifu' he proudly claimed. Then Ismail related how Yusof Gajah took him under his wings and Ismail has never looked back. Naive art it is for him. For Yusof Gajah, it's elephants that speak to his admirers at home and abroad. Ismail 's love for the marine world is enhanced in painting fishes. Facing me on the wall, was an art piece depicting nature - soaring birds, lush trees and vegetation and fishes swimming in the sea. On the small table is a wooden piece of art - fish shaped . In it I could see fishes and other elements making the decor piece an interesting conversation topic. Then I spotted how the shape of a a wedge of melon is retained and painted fruit and fish in one. Interesting!

Ismail 's art adorns his house - on the walls and every perceivable place. As he flipped his album , I could sense his great pride in his work and living his passion every day. He paints on canvas blocks, and even on mundane stuff like the kompang, chopping block, bamboo, rocks. It is items like these that tourists or those who have a smaller budget look for. He says the ' hot' sell among toursits is KL's famous Twin Towers and he has some ready for sale. Off his brushes, he splashes vibrant colours and I couldn't see any paintings that were dull or pastel shade.

A kompang to admire and beat your rhythms

He occupies a 'home' at the Artists Colony and students from colleges come to him for classes. From a corner he whipped up his sketch book and showed me samples of his sketches, many inspirations from his travels in Bali and local scenes. Ismail impressed upon me, 'In a sketch, an idea is born. Later, I can work on it and add or subtract and so it is never the same.' He insists his students show their sketches when they come to him and practise and practise.

'Where does inspiration come from?' I asked the oft repeated question. To this, Ismail says he travels and ideas just flow. He has just returned from India and has visited Bali, Vietnam, China etc.

I think he spent a good 25 minutes talking about art. Words just poured from him and he was kind of irrepressible in pointing certain aspects of art to me. Out of curiosity, he asked if I was a teacher by profession , in between our conversation. Funny enough, just earlier on during my rounds about the exhibition, someone asked me that same question too! He was willing to share and I felt I was being tutored by my new found teacher ! Already I have serious thoughts of becoming a student. Well, to tell the truth, I don't know if it's my nerves or his that will be tested. You see, my last art class was when I was in school ages ago. BUT, Ismail strikes me as good teacher, So I shall not fear !

Galeri Tanjung
Perkampungan Pelukis
Kompleks Kraf KL, Seksyen 63
Jalan Conlay, 50450 KL.

Relaxsee Studio
Kot 125 Lorong Kempas1
Kg Melayu Ampang
68000 Ampang, Selangor

Phone: 017 8830303