Saturday, May 29, 2010

Men At Work

The start of the big clean-up . The roof was being hosed down. 'Raindrops' were falling on my head!!!

Workers have been coming and going in my house of late. Like any house through the years, it needs repair or the necessary 'bodyworks' to keep it looking prime! Well, my house finally needed it.

This group of men come from Indonesia, Bangladesh and India with the odd locals. Talking to them, they have come to seek fortunes as promised or hearsay from their counterparts. Life is still tough for them though 'rosier' than home.They come by the thousands upon thousands. I reckon foreign worker agencies have active businesses going to cope with the sheer numbers that want to flock to Malaysia.

The numbers indicate our high dependence on foreign labour. This is of concern to the government. The target for foreign labour was about 1.8 million. Figures have crept up from 0.5 million (1984) to about 2.2million ( 2007-2008 ). The majority are employed in the manufacturing sector. It is known that lack of tenacity among the locals accounts for more foreign labour to be used. Moreover, locals want higher salaries which the employers find ways to avoid. Worse still, some resort to illegal labour.

This team of men are well-seasoned employees who are here legally. Sacrifices are aplenty. I don't think they have turned their backs on their families at all. It's about uprooting themselves to seek greener pastures to alleviate the dire situations back home. The tools are in them to plod on.

At the ready - a bucket to stand on. 'Beam me up, Scotty'??

A bird's eye view - how nice! But on hot days like these, it's sweltering.

Stroke after stroke of the roller brush

From my bedroom windows - heaps of cut plants

It's the septic tank that needed attention. The cover had broken and there was levelling of the sides with cement.

A job not for the faint -hearted - up the ladder and then up the tall pine tree. The branches of the old pine trees had to be loped as they overshadowed the neighbour's plants across the fence.

Trees grow at an amazing rate in our clime with such abundance of sun and rain. The erythrina glauca needed pruning. I hope to see the sunbirds more at eye -level!

The red ginger plants and heliconias - a big replanting exercise.

My favourite spot- the raphis excelsa needed thinning to allow more light into the terrace.

New pillar lights for a brighter lighting.

The old garbage site is of no use - so seal it!!

A great worker, experienced and hard working. He is known as 'kepala' ( 'head' in Malay) and has been in this trade for the past 40 years or so. I've watched him and he never slacks and keeps his own momentum while at work. Believes in an honest day's work.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Jimmy Choo at Shoe Fest 2010

What is it they say about shoes and ladies? Can we ever keep them apart? Walk into our shopping malls and you can sense how vanity coupled with excitement spills as feet slip into the trendy shoe wear.

But more palpable excitement literally walked all over us when we (men included) met Jimmy Choo at the PWTC (Putra World Trade Centre) in April. Yes, it was about all manner of shoes and and more so, Jimmy Choo's shoes!! You always recognize the buzz when a celebrity is around. Weren't we thrilled to meet the man himself and see his fine display of shoes showcased for all to view. Looking at them, they shine so beautifully oozing glamour and dollars galore! (you already know, I can't afford them :( ) Still, no harm in admiring.

My celebrity moment!

Have to say tho, Jimmy Choo was the reason I was at the exhibition. His fame has spread to many shores. And he's one Malaysian who makes us proud to be one too. After all, he has put Malaysia on the high fashion shoe wear map. He shod the late Princess Diana , an ardent admirer of his talent. More celebrities, including the rich and famous make up a long list of admirers -Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep. Even US First Lady, Michelle Obama wore a pair of Jimmy Choo's at her husband Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony.

Jimmy Choo happily obliged to have a photo taken with me and so many others. How did that happen with so many happy camera - clicking fans few feet deep and I was at the back of them ? I wriggled and snaked seamlessly my way , 'Excuse me, excuse me... ,' I said gently and got my way at the top!! Then I asked a young gentleman to quickly click that celebrity moment!! Jimmy Choo was v. nice. The crowds adored him. He seemed happy to be back with the home crowd . He even shook my hand ever so warmly and said,'Thank you for coming!'

Behind all the glitz of fame and wealth, Jimmy Choo started life poor. He was born into a family of shoemakers in Penang, Malaysia. The young Choo had to give up his primary year 6 education to learn the trade. At age 11, he made his very first pair . What was a job turned into passion and he pursued shoe designing in Cortwainers College, London (now part of London College of Fashion). Money was scarce but he persisted to keep his passion alive doing many menial odd jobs - cleaning toilets, sweeping floors, working in restaurants and being frugal.

In 1986, Choo set up a shoe factory in an old hospital building in London. Sales were poor. Lady Luck shone on him in 1988. He was spotted by VOGUE who featured his designs in 8 full pages. A shot to fame but nothing much changed until Princess Diana's regular patronage for his shoes made many eyes turn towards his elegant, feminine , skilfully crafted shoes. Since then, Choo has never looked back.

Just imagine, wouldn't it be great if I had the chance in a million to interview him? After all, he seems such a humble guy who's able to mingle freely with all and sundry. Some questions I would like to ask him:

1. as a boy, what dreams did you have, as you were helping your dad?

2. it takes a brave move to try to eke a living making shoes in London, one of the fashion capitals. What was it then, in Malaysia that you saw prompted you to seek greener pastures?

3. is the Malaysian taste for shoes any different from others - hope you know what I mean!!!

4. tell us your feelings when VOGUE splashed your designs on 8 full pages.

5. Shoes and Choo are one and the same. Your fame is international. How do you cope with celebrities? Do give us your take on it.

6. you are a great model for Malaysians - your struggle, your passion all make you what you are today - with some measure of luck. Nevertheless, a truly deserving career. Share with us the traits one must have to succeed in a competitive world. More so, to gain international status.

7. Finally, we are very proud of you, Professor Datuk Jimmy Choo, OBE. Thank you for your time !!! ( gosh, my interview is over and I'm sooo excited!!!)

I read that Jimmy Choo hopes to open his dream Couture Shoe Academy in Malaysia. Fingers crossed. Be ready to be inspired!

Happy fans - he was enjoying himself too!

Thought I had smaller feet! Well, now I know!!

Many interesting events - a shoe designing competition, fashion show, shoemakers at work, naming x number of shoe retailers participating, throwing shoes into a hole to get a prize, talks, etc.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's BOH time at Bukit Cheeding !

The tea we love - BOH ada UMMPH!

An invitation from Mrs. Joan Russell, of the BOH Plantations Sdn Bhd, to the MCG (Malaysian Culture Group) members to visit Bukit Cheeding Plantation was just too super an outing to miss.

Not only was it to be among the rolling hills of the tea garden, we had a guided tour of the Bukit Cheeding tea factory, savoured her wonderful lush garden and colonial bungalow which sits atop a hill overlooking the tea plantation.

In 1929, BOH started in Cameron Highlands. Equipped with only a single steamroller, some labourers and several mules, John Archibald Russell and his partner A.B. Milne,veteran tea planter from Ceylon, having obtained a land concession, tackled the virgin jungles of Cameron Highlands, 5000 feet above sea level. Thus began the first highland tea garden in then Malaya. To this day, BOH is your daily cuppa - for most of us, myself included!

Bukit Cheeding is a lowland tea garden, on the way to Banting, Selangor. It is one of the tea plantations owned by BOH Plantations Sdn Bhd, the others being BOH, Sungai Palas, Fairlie in Cameron Highlands. Collectively they cover a total of 1200 hectacres. Unlike the other tea gardens, Bukit Cheeding is a palm oil estate underplanted with tea. This is to protect the tea from the sun.

BOH dominates the domestic retail market and it is one of the few vertically integrated companies in the world. The Company is involved in the entire spectrum of tea manufacturing. From the tea cultivated, it processes the tea to the final stages of packaging and marketing. It is at the Bukit Cheeding facility that BOH packs all its tea.

As a child, I've known BOH though if any tea I had, it was Chinese tea. The morning spent at Bukit Cheeding was exceedingly super. I couldn't help feeling proud that BOH is a Malaysian brand. To think BOH and Ummph are synonymous - the latter as we know meaning ' strength, robust'. Yay! have a cuppa and indulge in the excellent pick-me- up or 'kick' quality of BOH!

We were certainly rejuvenated. 'BOH puts the UMMPH! in Life'.

Tea leaves from the plantations being crushed - a green carpet indeed!

After fermentation

The tea leaves are slowly being sorted. The vibrating sieves sort according to size.

The different grades of tea - high to low

Our guide who patiently answered the many questions. The larger the leaf, the better and more expensive the tea.

The steel behind the the tea we drink!! The main processing steps for tea - plucking, withering, rolling, fermenting, drying, sorting and packaging.

Bags piled skyhigh - of tea leaves from different countries for blending, of which the content is mainly BOH.

Stringent quality is always maintained.
BOH tea is exported to USA, parts of Europe, UAE, Japan, Singapore and Brunei .

Hey! what does your nose tell you?

Tasting demo by students - gulp some , swirl them in the mouth, then spit into the basin. Lastly record your findings.

Chief tea taster - a great skill which takes many years of experience. Consistency is crucial. Tea tasting is like wine tasting - look for colour, brightness, aroma etc.

My favourite : Cameronian Gold Blend. BOH is Malaysia's largest producer of premium black teas.

Ooohs and aahhs greeted this lovely house, downstairs and upstairs. The ambience was just so serene amidst the rolling hills of the tea plantation.

A grand setting ready to greet us!

How does one eat all these? Even a butterfly wanted a wee, wee taste!! (on the carrot salad)

The garden which is so attractive and huge

Palm oil trees amid the tea plantation

Lovely setting in the lounge downstairs.

Our president, Elise with Joan Russell (facing camera) after lunch. It was such a wonderful outing - yes, it was time to say goodbye . But not without a lovely gift bag of BOH: Cameronian Gold Blend, gourmet garden teas, the Seri Songket range, iced tea etc for us to drink in the comfort of our home. Thank you, Joan.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mari Mari Cultural Village,Kota Kinabalu,Sabah

Leaping high - very skilful

'Mari- Mari' means ' come, come' in Malay and what a welcome it was to the Mari - Mari Cultural Village. Before departing for Kinabalu National Park, we did not want to miss this visit so we shared half day at Manukan Island and the other to experience the culture of some the tribes of Sabah.

The cultural village is situated in a remote forest about 30 minutes from Kota Kinabalu city. Be prepared to indulge in tribal customs, rituals and ways of life .

Verdict - insightful and a very hands-on visit with a wonderful guide to make our day. That day, there were only 4 of us - 2 Americans and 2 Malaysians ready to soak up old and gone traditional living of the tribes.

It was absolutely engrossing to see, smell, touch and do as we moved among the 5 longhouses of the tribes - Rungus, Dusun, Lundayeh, Bajau and the Murut. The bark of trees, the bamboo, the wooden utensils, the thatched roofs - nature in existence then and now, all meld to give us stories of each longhouse of the tribes. Very fascinating! Life 'As It was... As It Is' says the brochure lived up to its description.

Our adventure began with the high priestess, known as 'Bobohizan' appearing from the jungle and blessing the visitors with charmed water to ward off evil spirits that might intrude the village.

A green crocodile to show a head warrior lives in the longhouse.

Just lift the roof - let the breeze in and you are cooled ! Modernity takes a back seat here!

A Rungus lady prettily dressed in her costume (note the beadwork )

Happy feet doing the bamboo dance at the dance hall. It was fun and energetic. The Murut bamboo dance, the Magunatip gets your adrenaline pumping as the tempo quickens. The Sabah tribes make very good use of the abundant bamboo. Rhythmic stomping noises of the bamboo was music to our ears.

Tatoo designs as souvenirs. All 4 of us had our turns to have the henna decorations on our arms.

Getting ready for the leap from the trampoline. The other participants rhythmically move and shake the platform - the big trampoline made from bamboo. It looks simple but timing and skill are crucial to make the big leap and touch the ' prize' above.

The tobacco is rolled and now comes the smoking - for peace! It was strong. Didn't the men splutter trying it!!

Aim - blow! with a blowpipe. The young boy aced on his target, needless to say. We had more misses than hits! The blowpipe is made from bamboo. The poison (for real use) is a lethal prepared sap from the Ipoh tree (antiaris toxicaria)

We tasted the roti jala made the Sabahan way. Again, there's always bamboo used in some form or other in the daily lives of the Sabahans. We even prepared our own food of meat and herbs which we ate at the end of the entire tour.

Musical ingenuity with different sizes of the bamboo.

Painstaking method of making yarn

No matches to start a fire.
After the demo, it was our turn . Gosh, it was more than hard work ! Can you see the taut hands and face which got redder and redder and there was no fire - yet!!

Our guide holding up a vest - all made from the bark of trees. Real priceless piece of clothing.

The areca nut being shaved and then eaten with lime on a betel nut leaf. Want a 'high'? - this can give you some!

Also known as the sea gypsies of Sabah

A pretty Lundayeh lass

A group photo after the wonderful dances. A truly memorable visit to Sabah, 'The Land Below The Wind'.