Monday, February 26, 2007

Zooomr test - Monkeyproof Trash

Ok, there's this photo sharing site called Zooomr that is promising a free pro account totaling 2.4 gigs of storage for bloggers if you put an image of yours they are hosting on your blog. OK, I'm game. So far I haven't been impressed with their service. It is in Beta, but still- I uploaded an image at work, and now, when I signed in here at the Internet cafe, it was gone! I tried uploading some more images, but after getting an "upload successful" message, I kept getting a 404 error message, and no pics uploaded. I don't know if my pics will still be there after I sign out, but what the hell! I need more frustration and things to get pissed at in my life, right?


Ok, so what the hell, here goes:

MonkeyMonkey Hosted on Zooomr

This is a trash can in the parking lot of the Taiping Zoo. The MPT stands for the Municipal Council of Taiping, or something like that. Hopefully, though, it stands for "MonkeyProof Trash"!

I was doing a lesson with my Form 1 students. We were going over descriptive adjectives to describe places. I explained that the suffix -ful meant "full of ____ ". Beautiful means "full of beauty", peaceful means "full of peace", etc. So when I asked them to describe the school, they said it was "monkeyful"! Yup, monkeys tend to be all over the place, whole troops of macaques going through the trash, climbing up to the roof of the classrooms during class, and rummaging through the girls dorms. For some reason, though, they won't go near the boys dorms. Maybe it is too "odorful" in there.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Cross Cultural Misunderstandings - Should You Clean Your Plate in China?

In my family, as in probably most American families, you were taught that you have to clean your plate. You take it, you eat it. No waste was allowed. Especially in my family, where a lot of times there wasn't much food to go around.

So, there comes a day when I found myself in Qingyundian, China at the New Day Foster Home. I just went there for a visit after teaching in Korea for a year, but ended up doing much more than that. It was a blast. It was one of the best times of my life, and was hard to leave and go to the Philippines.


It was during the SARS scare, which left the orphanage and community center short handed. Normally, they had five or six volunteers come and help them out each year. That year, because of SARS, they had none. Then I showed up. Two days after I came to visit, two of the factory workers came up to me and asked when their English classes were going to start.

That surprised me, as I only intended to be there for a week. I asked them why they thought I was there to teach them English. It was the last thing I had intended to do.

They said Byron had told them that I was an English teacher.

So I asked Byron, who along with his wife Karen, are the American co-directors of the operation, why the factory workers thought I was there to teach them English. That's when he explained what had happened, and how they were really short handed. He asked me if I could stay and help.

So it was off to Hong Kong, to turn my 1 month "L" tourist visa, into a 3 month "Z" expert visa.

When I came back, I did all sorts of things, helping out wherever I was needed. I taught English to the kids in the orphanage, kids from 2 1/2 to 4 years old. I also taught the factory workers, villagers, their children, and whoever else wanted to learn.

I also played around with their computers, and did whatever was needed for the kids.


One of my jobs was to help in the kitchens. I usually did clean up and dish duty. That really endeared me to the kitchen staff. They always made sure that I was well fed.

It was cafeteria style dining. You grabbed a tray, they asked you what you wanted, and they put it on your tray. Being an American, I always finished what they gave me.

The food was great, so I eagerly ate it all up. Well, they kept giving me more and more, and of course, I kept finishing it. More and more food kept getting piled on my tray, until I was sitting down with a tray that had enough food for three people. They couldn't figure out why they had to give me so much food, and I couldn't figure out why they expected me to eat so much.

What I didn't realize was that to the Chinese, if you finish everything, it means that you are still hungry. You show that you are finished by leaving a little bit on your tray. This was totally opposite to what I was taught. For me, it was a sin to leave even the smallest speck of food on your plate.

Finally, I caught on, after the portions got to a size where if I ate anything more, I would have burst.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tales of A Pizzaman- The Big Bust

I used to be the co-manager of the Domino's Pizza store at 111 North Belvedere in Richmond, VA. That was where I insulted Wynton Marsalis.

We were one of the busiest stores in the Dominos Pizza Chain. Word got around the street that because we were so busy, there was a lot of money in the store. Then somebody heard that some persons unknown were planning to rob us. So we hired off-duty Richmond cops to stay in the store during the night shift to act as security. They got $15 an hour under the table, which was great money for that time and place.

My favorite hired gun was Arnold. I knew it was going to be a good night if he was there.

He was a big black guy, and ex-Vietnam veteran, who used to work with the K-9 unit. He had a great sense of humor, and liked to tell stories. Still, he could be a no nonsense all business type if he had to. He and his wife were separated at the time, and he was living alone in a studio apartment. His daughters adored him, and came around to cook for him and make sure their daddy was OK. Still, he liked to be out of that apartment and out among people. Making extra money was just a bonus.

Nothing ever happened that I couldn't handle while Arnold was there, but he was always ready to back me up. If someone was getting a little too loud or too frisky, Arnold would shoot them a nasty look and they would calm down quick. Usually, though, he just stood around on the other side of the counter and cracked jokes and talked with people. It was like having your favorite Uncle as your store security.

One night, it was late, and business was slow. Almost everyone had gone home, and I was getting ready to close up. Arnold said he was going outside to have a cigarette.

He stood on the corner looking uptown. A guy came around the corner. He was a tall, almost skeletal white guy with stringy hair, wearing torn jeans, a light plaid shirt, sneakers, and nothing else except a cast on his wrist and scratches on his face. There was nothing unusual about that, not in that neighborhood, except that it was the dead of winter, and the temperature was somewhere in the teens.

The guy obviously asked for a cigarette, and Arnold gave him one, and lit it for him. They talked for maybe five minutes, then they came inside, Arnold opening the door and walking in behind him.

The guy stood in the corner by the window, and Arnold stood calmly over him.

"You wait there", he says, and you know he means it.
The guy says something to him, that I don't understand.
"Hey John, you got some water? He has to take some medication."
I get a 16 ounce bottle of Coke from the cooler.
"You don't have anything else?"
"Don't worry, it's OK"
Arnold gives the guy the Coke.
"Tell the man thank you."
He says thanks like an chastised and obedient little boy, and takes his medicine. Then his nose remains pointed at the floor, but his eyes look look around.
He seems confused, or bewildered.
"Hey John, I got a call I have to make. Can I use your phone?"
"Sure, go right ahead."
I bring the phone closer to him, and he dials his number. I go back to cleaning up. Arnold says something short, no more than a few sentences. He hangs up, looks over at the guy, and says thanks for letting me use the phone.

Five minutes later, our parking lot is suddenly filled with Virginia State Trooper patrol cars, their tires screaming, lights going, and sirens blasting. Arnold says to the guy "let's go", the guy says, "I can't believe he's a cop", and shuffles out.

The troopers are obviously agitated, and cuff the guy and throw him into a car. After a few minutes, the car with the guy inside leaves. Arnold comes in with a couple of troopers, they go in a corner and talk, and they trooper take a statement. Meanwhile, my drivers are coming in, totally clueless to what was going on. They probably would have thought we had been robbed, if I hadn't been acting so nonchalant about the whole thing.

Sokhom, the little ex-Cambodian Army jungle fighter, was worried and asked me what was going on. Festus, the crazy Cameroonian, came in with his usual aplomb in his crazy yellow Fiat, (this was before his wife firebombed it), and for once, he actually looked concerned about something other than who his date would be for the night. I assured them that things were OK, and once I found out what happened, I would let them know. They went out on the last couple of Pizza runs, leaving me, Arnold, and half of the Virginia State Police in the store.

After about fifteen minutes, the parking lot was empty. Arnold came back inside after seeing the last of the officers off.

"OK Arnold, tell me. What just happened?"
"Well, you saw that I went outside to have a cigarette. I wanted to take a look around to see if there was anything going on, and see what was happening out on the street. There's nobody out on a night like tonight, so I lit up."

"Then that guy comes around the corner, and asks me for a cigarette. I know right away something is wrong, because a normal person wouldn't be dressed like that if everything was OK. So I give him a cigarette to make him stick around so I can see what's going on."

"So I decided to start a conversation. I see the cast on his arm, so I asked him if he had an accident. He said, yeah, that he had crashed his brand new Camaro on I-95. "

"So I asked him, 'how does a guy like you afford a brand new Camaro?' You know what he told me?"

"I deal drugs!!!"

"What? You're kidding me!"

"Nope! I said, 'Oh, really?' "

"He said yeah, he was coming up from Florida with a whole trunk load of pot when he lost it on a curve on I-95 doing 90 miles per hour, and scrambled the car. The State Police came and took him to the hospital. When they turned their backs, he just walked away. I'll tell you, this guy was reeeeeally stupid! I couldn't get him to shut up. He told me everything-where he picked the stuff up, where he was going, everything. And this to some guy he just met on the street!"

"So finally, I said 'I hate to tell you this, but I'm a cop. If you make one move to run away, I'm going to catch you and drop kick your ass across the bridge.' So he made no move, and came in nice and quiet. I called up the State Police, and they said they'd been looking all over for this guy. You know the rest."

""So it looks like you had a good night tonight, Arnold. Not only do make some extra cash, but you make a big bust, too. Congratulations."

"Thanks John. You know, sometimes you just get lucky. Man, I still can't believe he just walked up to me and opened up like that. How stupid can you be?"

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Why George W. Bush Wants Bin Laden Caught

An Interesting entry from a blog on AlterNet:

Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the ass!"

Uhhh, George I know you profess yourself to be a Christian, but I have serious doubts about that. Do you know how many commandments you would be breaking by doing that? The Bible says you should love your enemies, but I think this is taking it a little bit too far. Or is it, George, that you want to do to him what you are already doing to the rest of the world?

Read This Article!!! NOW, DAMMIT!!!

If you read nothing else this year, you have to read this article about Bush's proposed Budget and who it really benefits on AlterNet.

If the Estate Tax were to be repealed completely, the estimated savings to just one family -- the Walton family, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune -- would be about $32.7 billion dollars over the next ten years.

The proposed reductions to Medicaid over the same time frame? $28 billion.

Or how about this: if the Estate Tax goes, the heirs to the Mars candy corporation -- some of the world's evilest scumbags, incidentally, routinely ripped by human rights organizations for trafficking in child labor to work cocoa farms in places like Cote D'Ivoire -- if the estate tax goes, those assholes will receive about $11.7 billion in tax breaks. That's more than three times the amount Bush wants to cut from the VA budget ($3.4 billion) over the same time period.

If it doesn't get you royally pissed off, and make you want to get off your fat ass and do something, then you are a hopelessly brain dead moron, and there is nothing anyone can do for you. Go ahead, just sit around while the world turns to s&@!, and don't give a f$#@ that Bush and his friends are turning the USA into another Philippines, and openly getting away with it. Yup, if nothing is done, in the coming years our once great nation will be nothing more than a third rate third world country, run for the benefit of the rich and powerful few. You want the proof?

Or possibly you are one of the rich bastards that are going to benefit from the proposed tax cuts, and you don't give a flying f@#!. You and George Bush and your buddies are laughing at the American public and their hopeless "I'm doing OK so what should I care" apathy. Laughing all the way to the bank, while programs to the starving and needy are cut to pay for your greed. In that case, I hope you rot in the worst pit of hell, and are deep fried in a vat of your own excrement for all eternity.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Relationship Equation

Chinese Blogging Part 2- In Search of Chinese Food

OK, I am back. I tried restarting Firefox, but still everything was in Chinese. It's difficult trying to make your way around, when things aren't in a romanized alphabet. Even websites you are familiar with are difficult to navigate when you have to try to remember or guess what each button does.

Once my wife finished her game of "Bookworm Adventures", we went to the hawkers stalls by the Lake Gardens to eat.

My wife wanted "Nasi Ekonomi", which is the Chinese food equivalent of the Malay food "Nasi Campur", and the Indian food "Nasi Kandar". Nasi, by the way, is Malay for rice. In all of these, you get a plate of rice, and then choose from a bunch of prepared dishes, like a buffet. My wife was insistent, though, that she just wanted to eat at that one hawker stall by the Lake Gardens, because the woman has fried pork.

Well, guess what? She wasn't there.

So we went wandering all over Taiping, looking for a place suitable for her (and the babies) needs. This took a lot longer than it usually would, as most places were closed for the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Almost all of the Chinese run restaurants were closed. So guess what it was that my wife was craving? That's right- Chinese food, and nothing but Chinese food.

So we wandered all around Taiping, looking for a suitable place. If a there was a place open, there was always a reason why she didn't want to eat there. Mostly, it was because "It's not what I want." I know it's crazy being pregnant, and it makes women do strange things, so I went patiently along. Eventually, my wife tired out when we got to the Indian section of town, near the Taiping hospital. Then she decided Indian food would be OK, because at least she could get a variety.

As it turns out, the Indian restaurants weren't well stocked.

Our favorite one, the Annapoorana restaurant,didn't have much more than roti canai. While we enjoy roti canai, it was not what she wanted. The situation was the same at our second choice, the Sugantha restaurant. Our friend Rod Deering eats there, and he is super-particular about what he eats, so you know it is good food. We walked across the street, and there was a banana leaf restaurant. She decided that that would do. Not that we had much choice.

In a banana leaf restaurant, a banana leaf is put in front of you, and you eat off of that.
Then someone comes around, and puts a huge amount of steaming rice on your banana leaf. Then they come back with buckets of condiments, and throw that on your banana leaf. After that, they ask you what kind of curry you want, and slop that on. Then you eat it with your hands. It's all great fun, and great food. Top it off with some teh tarik, and you got yourself a meal.

Finally, we both were satisfied, but she still had a boo-boo face. When I asked why, her response was:

"You didn't get me Chinese food".

OK, only six more months of this to go!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Blogging in Chinese

Okay- I am here at a different Internet cafe in Taiping than my normal haunt. My wife and I decided to check it out, as it is closer to the new apartment we will move to in March. From the outside, it is nice- clean, spacious, new equipment- the antithesis of our normal place. Two pre-teen Chinese boys are in charge- the oldest one can't be more than 11, or 12, the other one 9 or 10 at the most. That's OK, they seem to know what they are doing. If not for one problem, I would be coming here from now on. Every web page comes up in Chinese, or goes to the site that originates in China. All the controls are in Chinese. The browsers are set to Chinese.

I say browsers, because originally there was just Internet Exploder. I installed Firefox, but it imports all the setting from Internut Exploiter, so everything is still in Chinese. I tried messing around with the options, and selected English as my language of choice, but everything keeps coming up in Chinese.

I even went into the Windoze control panel and changed the language, but all the controls to this page are still in Chinese. Even after hitting refresh, it still is in Chinese.

OK, now Google is coming up in English, instead of the Chinese version, which was giving me some pretty bizarre results. Maybe after I publish this, (If I can remember the right button to click), I can sign out and sign back in, and do some serious blogging. More than likely, though, My wife and I will be heading to the hawker stalls by the Lake Gardens, as soon as she finishes playing the trial version of "Bookworm Adventures". The younger "proprietor" is standing behind her watching her play, and eating a bowl of noodles. She is still very sensitive to smell, and is making a face. Still, I know she won't leave until the 60 minute trial period expires!


Friday, February 16, 2007

Tales of 939 Summit Ave, in the Jersey City Heights - The Beginning

I got an e-mail from my buddy Tom Solomon the other day. In it, he talked about our days as housemates at the infamous 939 Summit Ave., in Jersey City, NJ. When I got his e-mail, I couldn't help but laugh remembering the things that used to happen, and the people that lived there. It's funny- Now, after a number of years have gone by, I look back on that time with affection, and things don't seem as bad as I thought they were at the time. The passage of time will do that.

We shared the place with four other guys, and a ghost.

It was owned by Bob P., who was an opera singer, translator, and an ex-catholic priest. Bob was a great guy, and no one in the house ever had anything bad to say about him, even though we had plenty of bad things to say about lots of people. We would joke about Bob every now and then, but it was always out of affection. He was a stocky guy who shaved his head bald, and wore frameless glasses. Bob went to Tom's first show and Tom didn't recognize him, because Bob was wearing a wig and contacts, to impress the woman he was with!

Bob ran 939 as rooming house for members of the art community. The rent was cheap, and to live there you needed some sort of connection to the arts. At least in the beginning, that is. When a space became available, Bob ran an ad in the Village Voice setting out the conditions. The phone number was that of his nephew, Rich, who had no connection to anything, as far as anyone could see.

If you look up the word loser in the dictionary, you see Rich's picture next to it. Just as no one ever had anything bad to say about Bob, no one ever had anything good to say about Rich, once they got to know him. For one thing, he ate everyones food. He would do it in front of you, too. If you called him out on it, he would say that you weren't being a positive member of the house, and threaten to call his uncle.

I don't know where the furniture came from in 939, the furnishings were done in Early Salvation Army Revival style. The table and chairs in the dining room were the only really nice pieces of furniture. The floors creaked, and sometimes strange smells came from the backyard, making me wonder if Rich had buried someone back there.

Anyway, You met Rich at 939, looked things over, and maybe met the other residents. If Rich approved, you went to Bobs' little cubby hole in Manhattan, to give him the deposit.

When I first moved in there, the residents were me, Tom Solomon, the magician and escape artist, and Rich, who shared the basement with Tom. There was also Lester, who was an actor from France, Brian, an illustrator, and Bill, who was a drummer in a speed metal band called D.I.E.

Lester was a strange guy. Lester never worked. It turns out he was living off a trust fund given to him by his grandfather. He was totally clueless about anything domestic. He and Rich had such a total lack of common sense, that I thought that they must have both been raised in caves by bears.

He and Rich spent an inordinate amount of time together at the donut shop. Tom and I couldn't figure out what their obsession was with donuts. Then Bill said that "donut shop" must be their code word for a gay encounter. That made sense, since most of their conversations about going to the donut shop went something like this:

Rich- Hey Lester, do you want to go to the "donut shop?"

Lester- Uhhhh, sure Rich.

Rich- Do you want to get some "donut holes?"

Lester- Uhhhh, sure Rich. Can I get the cream filled ones this time?

Rich- Sure Lester. I feel like having the chocolate "donut holes".

Bill was cool. He was still young, just 19, and a friend of Bill W. He had done something bad and had gotten caught. The judge gave him a choice- either go through rehab, or go to prison. He was so caught up in his addiction, that he almost chose prison. Choosing rehab changed his life for the better, and he was working hard to keep his life moving in the right direction. So much so, that he is probably the most responsible person I have ever met in my life. (OK, excluding my wife, that is.) ;-D. I went with him and his band when they auditioned at CBGB's, and we met
Gene Simmons of KISS.

Brian was all right. He was quiet, but had a wickedly dry sense of humor. He usually kept to himself, and stayed in his room doing his work. Sometimes he would come down and watch TV with us. One time he did was when his friend Lynda Barry was on the David Letterman Show. Otherwise he stayed away from the madness going on downstairs.

And what mad things used to go on . . .

(To be continued)

The Difference Between a Relationship and Exercise

I used to work in a restaurant during and after my college days. I did almost every job there, except for cashier, bartender, and waiter. Which means I was a host, busboy, fry cook, line cook, prep cook, backup prep cook, and a dishwasher. I wanted to be a waiter, so that I could make some real money. The manager refused. Why? Because I was too good at what I did.

"So you're telling me that if I really sucked at what I do, you would make me a waiter?"
He had no answer for that one, but I did get a raise.

Most of the workers there were between the ages of 16 and 25. Most of the girls working there were in the market for a husband. A couple of them were married, but looking for a refund or an exchange.

The girls there would talk. The most popular subject, of course, was guys. It was while working there that I learned that women talk just as dirty, or more so, than guys.

One day two of them were talking about their boyfriends. The one was talking about her relationship. Included in the discussion was a graphic depiction of their sex life. When she finished, the other girl said:

"Wow! You know, that's not a relationship! That's exercise!"

Woman Gets on the Wrong Bus and Gets Lost for 25 Years

An interesting little blurb. A woman from southern Thailand tried to get on a bus to Malaysia for a shopping trip. Instead, she ends up in Chiang Mai for 25 years! Not that it is a bad place to be.

The moral of the story? When you travel, don't be afraid to ask for directions!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Encounter With The Kelantanese Girls

I had only been working in Malaysia for a couple of weeks in 2005 when the Chinese New Year holiday hit.

Being that I was new here, I didn't know what to do with myself during the week I had off. My wife was then my fiancee, and still in the Philippines, waiting for me to get settled here and send for her.

So I looked in the Lonely Planet guidebook, to see what interesting places I could go to.

Malaysia is filled with all sorts of beautiful and interesting places to go to. It's one of the reasons I like it here so much. Then there is the great food, and the friendly people. It's probably the best country in Asia to work in if you are an ESL teacher like I am.

At that time, though, I was still a newbie here, and I wanted to get out and explore. I wanted to get as far away from KL as I could. And what place was farther away than Kelantan, the state up in the Northeast bordering Thailand?

Then I read about the Jungle Train, and decided that it was for me. A nice ride through Taman Negara Park, and my first up close view of the Jungle? Yeah, that was for me.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get up early enough to get the jungle train, so I took a later one. One that supposedly would have us getting into Kota Baru just after daylight.

Well, nothing ever runs on time in Asia, and sure enough, I had plenty of time to see as much jungle as I wanted to.

When I made it into Kota Baru, I found that almost everything was closed for Chinese New Year. There really wasn't anything to do. It was very disappointing. All I could do was look for a cheap hostel to stay in, and see what I could do in the morning.

I looked around to see what I could see. Mostly I saw a bunch of locked buildings, and closed museums, and people wondering what the heck I was doing wandering around aimlessly.

The next morning, I decided to get on out of there. I went to the bus station, to see if I could get a ticket to somewhere. Anywhere. Unfortunately, all the tickets to somewhere and anywhere were sold out. Not that I knew where any of the somewheres and anywheres listed were.

I was walking around, trying to figure out what to do and where to go, when I noticed a group of girls, dressed in traditional garb, following me. I turned around, and they turned away shyly, and talked among themselves.

It was cute. I wondered what was up, so I took a few steps toward them, and pretended I had a message on my cellphone.

They approached me, and one said quietly to me:

"Hi, we are students. We have an assingment. We have to interview a foreigner. Do you mind if we interview you?"

At last- something interesting to do!

I suggested we sit in the gazebo nearby, but it turns out that it was reserved for women only, and I don't qualify. So we went of to the Central Market. We found a tea stall, and I bought all of us tea.

They asked me questions, and I answered them in my usual friendly way. I asked them why they chose me. They said the other foreigners who were there looked scary, and I looked friendly. We spent the next 3 hours talking. When we were finished, they gave me a little handcrafted bookmark as a present. Then, they wanted to take me to see the sites, but everything was closed. So we went back to the Central Market, and looked for something for my apartment. Before they left, they took the pictures you see here, as proof that we had talked.

A couple weeks later, I got this e-mail, along with the pictures:

Hi John....thanks so much for reply my email. I didn't expect that you will reply it very fast.

Actually, in my first email, I forgot to tell you something about our assignment,in the english programme we participated in these two months, we were giving three group assignment to do, and only in this task-tourist interview, we were giving an opppurtunity to chose our own group members. After finishing our task-looking fot tourist, we need to do a presentation in front of our class where we need to choose a tourist who we like most and tell about him/her in front of our class.And we-kelantanese's girls, decided to tell them about you! We told them that you are our first unexpected tourist we met and we spent almost 3 HOURS only with you! We also told them about your kindness where you treat us tea. Even though it is only a tea, but it is the first time in our life when the foreigner tourist treat us! At first, they didn't believe our story, but when we show them you writting...fuh,luckily they believe us.

And the most important is...on the closing ceremony of the programme, we were announced as the best group because we managed to do about 19 interviews with more than 30 people in 8 days! What a amazing experience we ever underwent. Frankly, we didn't expect to be a winning team because we did the assignment just for fun. A first and interesting experience with you make us like addicted to meet more tourist and talk to them.

Okey...I think my email is too long...and maybe you got to be bored to read my email. Thanks again and sorry because my english is not too good. May be if you want to come to kota bharu again, you can tell us, right!

BYE and thanks again...


Cell Groups and Altered Reality

One thing I have been involved with almost from the beginning of my Christian life is cell groups. A cell group is a small group that meets outside of church, usually at someone’s house, once a week. It is lead by a cell group leader, who is responsible for running things. Depending on what the cell group leader decides, there is usually a meal or some food, served at the beginning or end of things. There is also usually a time for worship, a time for teaching, a time for sharing, a time for prayer, a time for praying and ministering to each other, and a time to fellowship. The order and length of things is decided by the cell group leader, who is a de facto lay pastor.

The idea behind a cell group is that everyone participates, relationships are formed, and people get to exercise their gifts and grow spiritually. That way people don’t just come to church on Sunday, and figure that’s it, but people become involved with things. It is a great way for people to find their spiritual path, and start living a real Christian life. I believe wholeheartedly in cell groups. I have seen great things take place- people change and grow, relationships are restored, healings of body, mind, and spirit, and all sorts of other wonderful things happen. You don’t normally see these things happen among people who just sit in church on Sundays. Because of this, and the changes they have helped make in my life, I like to get involved in cell groups wherever I go.

The first cell group I ever attended was in my spiritual home, Joy Fellowship Church in the Highbridge area of the Bronx. At the time it was one of the most dangerous areas in America. After awhile, I lead a cell group of my own there. I have also lead or been involved in cell groups in Colombia, The Philippines, Spain, Korea, China, and Malaysia.

After I moved away from the Bronx, I lead a cell group for my new church, Jesus is Lord Fellowship, in Toms River, NJ. It was quite a change from the South Bronx. The worst case of culture shock I ever got was moving from the South Bronx to South Jersey. It was a suburban, much more affluent area than what I had become used to. There were mostly white people there, and it took me time to get used to dealing with them again. The church itself was half Filipino, which did ease the transition somewhat.

After I was there for a while, Pastor Nestor Arellano asked me to lead a cell group, which would meet in a motel in Lakehurst. That's right, where the Hindenburg exploded. The motel was basically a dumping ground for welfare cases the authorities wanted to hide away from the general population. My members were alcoholics, drug addicts, and people with various mental illnesses, homosexuals, ex-cons, or different physical illnesses. Usually, people had more than one of these problems, in various combinations.

One day Pastor Nestor called me into his office, and asked me to keep a close watch on the people I brought to church. Not because they were acting up or causing problems, but because the ushers were afraid of them!

One of my cell group members was Greg. He had a whole list of problems: paranoid schizophrenic, alcoholic, drug addicted, bisexual, and I can’t remember what else. He was a really nice, caring guy, despite all that. He had been in rehab 13 times. Each time he was in rehab, he was elected captain or whatever it is, of his rehab group. Then two weeks after he was released, he would relapse, and the cycle would start over again.

One time he related during our sharing time how he used to think he was Jesus. He thought he had the ability to control time and natural events. He wondered why people didn’t recognize his divine nature, and worship him. Eventually someone did recognize it, and sent him to Ancora, which is the New Jersey state maximum security mental hospital.

While he was there, he found out he was locked up with six other Jesus’, three John the Baptists, two Elijahs, the Angel Gabriel, and a dozen Napoleons. That really must have made for an interesting dynamic in that ward.

He figured that if there were seven Jesus’, then six of them had to be wrong. When Greg tried to use his powers to escape and failed, he realized he must not be the Son of God after all. That cold harsh slap of reality was a major disappointment for him. It took him a while to come to terms with not being the creator of the universe, but at least he did.

There's a lot of people so called "sane" people out there I wish would have the same epiphany.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Jazz Pinoy Restaurant in KOMTAR, Penang

Ok, say you are a Filipino, living in Malaysia, and you miss the food at home. Someone, like, ooooh say, my wife. You really crave some adobo, diniguan, sinigang, or some other food you haven't had since last time you were at home. What do you do?

Well, if you are in Penang, you go to KOMTAR, (the big tower in the picture on the left). You go upstairs to the third level, and see the James and Susan Moey at the Jazz Pinoy Restaurant.

(That's Susan on the left, my wife, me, and James.)

There they have all sorts of Filipino foods for you to eat, just like at home. If you tell them a day ahead of time, they will even make you that special dish you haven't had since you left home.

The Jazz Pinoy acts as the unofficial Filipino center for Penang and northwestern Malaysia. During the weekend, Filipinos come from all overthe area to meet, eat, make friends, and speak their native tongue. If you are a Filipino in trouble, go there and they will put you in contact with the Penang Support Group, which works with the Embassy in KL to help Filipinos in need. The PSG is doing good work, and has helped out many Filipinos in this area who were having various problems.

My wife and I discovered this place purely by accident.

We were staying overnight in Penang, before going on to Thailand, to go on vacation to help us get over our second pregnancy misfire. We didn't know where we were going to go, so we were looking for an internet cafe to check likely locations. I knew there was one in KOMTAR.

We went to the level where I knew there was one. I saw their sign advertising Filipino food, and stopped. My wife grabbed my hand, and tried to pull me towards the Internet cafe. I told her there was a Filipino restaurant right in front of us, but she refused to go in. Nothing I could say or do would make her stop for a couple of minutes to check it out. Her reason? She didn't think it was a real Filipino restaurant. HUH?

It was only after we finished at the Internet cafe that she consented to go in. Then we found out that yes, it is a real Filipino restaurant with real Filipino food, and that Susan is from the Visayas, just like my wife. Once my wife was there, it was hard to get her out.

We went back when we returned from Phuket. My wife has been back many times, and has made many friends there. She even met one of her classmates from primary school there, who is now married with four kids. Through the contacts she made at the Jazz Pinoy, she was able to enroll in a certificate course in cooking, sponsored by the Philippine embassy. It is taught by her new friend Lisa, who is also from the Visayas.

The Jazz Pinoy definitely has been a blessing to my wife, and the other Filipinos in the area.

It is a little bit of home away from home.

Even for me! :-)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

What the hell! Let's try another one!

Cool! It works! So here's another one:

There is one of the most famous businessmen in the planet in this photo. Where and who is he?

Click here to get an answer

FotoTagger Experiment

In looking around for things to add to my Blog, or ways to make it more interesting, I came across FotoTagger. It allows you to annotate any photos you might want to put in your blog. It looked interesting, like something I can use here, or with the Blog I am planning to start with a form 2 class this week. If this works like they say it does, it will be quite useful.

One of the things they have on their site are photo quizzes, where a photo is given and a question is asked about it, and you have to come up with an answer. I want to see if this will work with Blogger, so here is my experimental post:

In a few years, at least two of these young men will become living legends of rock music. Who are they?

Click here to get an answer

Friday, February 9, 2007

The Sad State of the Public Restrooms in Malaysia

This year is the 50th anniversary of Malaysian independence. As such, It has been declared "Visit Malaysia Year 2007". They are are making a big effort, and spending a lot of money to draw in the tourists. If they want to draw in tourists, and improve the country's image in the eyes of the world, most of that money would be better spent improving the dismal state of the public restrooms.

Oh, they are making some effort. There is a cute little commercial playing that seems to be urging workers to clean up and take care of the public facilities. But seeing as my Malay skills are not too good, it could also just be urging the cute little kids in the background not to poop and piss all over the floor.

Lets face it- the public restrooms here are horrible. Most of them are not maintained even at a minimum standard at all. Worst of all, you have to pay for the right to use these crap houses.

Normally, there is a bored looking someone sitting at the entrance, behind a sign asking 20 sen (about 5 cents) for admittance. Most of the places, I wouldn't even pay that much to get in, because they look like proving grounds for top secret biological weapons. If you want toilet paper and soap, that is extra, of course.

The attendant looks bored beyond belief, and totally apathetic to anything going on around them. They act as if they can barely be bothered to take your money. God forbid you ask them to make change. That is a major annoyance, and aways met by a dirty look, because the stupid foreigner doesn't know enough to carry 20 sen in their pocket.

If there is a problem, forget about trying to rouse them from their torpor. If you say something about a toilet overflowing all over the floor, or some other such problem, the general response will be either a blank stare of total what-do-I-care non-concern, a bitter look like you just ruined their life, or you will be laughed at as a stupid foreigner, who actually thinks they are there to do something other than exist in a catatonic state.

Lets face it, the way most of these places are maintained, you are better off urinating and defecating in your pants. It's much more hygienic than using one of these cesspools. What can you do, though? If you really have to go, the only other choice you have is to wait until you get to your hotel or other accommodation, or wait until you get to some other country.

In my experience, the only other place worse than a Malaysian restroom are the walled in trenches that pass for restrooms in the villages in China. That's all they are- a trench in the ground, with no stalls, no privacy, no place to wash your hands, nothing. You drop your pants and grin stupidly at any others there while taking a dump. The only improvement a Malaysian restroom has over that is that it does have stalls, so at least you can have some privacy and dignity.

There seems to be a nationwide contest for which place has the worst disease factory. There must be a law in Malaysia that all public facilities must not be mopped, fixed, maintained, or deodorized. Some of the most noxious places in Asia are Malaysian public restrooms. They probably contribute as much or more to global warming than anything else in Asia.

Yeah, the government wants you to visit Malaysia in 2007. But if they want your trip to be a little less adventuresome, and a lot more pleasant, then they should do something about these #@$%holes.


(Note: The restrooms pictured above are not typical Malaysian restrooms. They are the finest restroom facilities Malaysia has to offer.)

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Tale of a Christmas Card

My wife and I are in her village in Cebu, in the Philippines. I ask my mom to send me my barong tagalog, so I can wear it for our blessing ceremony in my wife's village. A couple days later, I call her up to make sure she sent it, as it is the Christmas season, and time is of the essence. She says she sent it, and that a letter or something just arrived for me. Too bad it didn't arrive the day before, she says, otherwise I could have sent it with the barong tagalog. She asks me where to send it to, and I say I don't know. I have to ask my wife.

My wife says to send it to her cousin at her job, because it would get there quicker, and be more reliable. So OK, I have to wait another day while my wife gets the full address. Then I take a jeepney into town and go to an internet cafe, and e-mail the address to my sister. Then my sister calls up my Mom, and spells out the address line by line to her.

My Mom puts the letter in another envelope, and then sends it by airmail to the Philippines.

By the time it gets to my wife's cousin at her job, I am back in Malaysia.

My wife's cousin calls my wife on her cellphone. My wife is in Manila getting ready to leave the next day to join me. She tells her cousin to hold on to the letter, because she doesn't know where I want it sent to.

My wife leaves the Philippines, and I meet her at the KL Sentral train station. After we kiss, hug, and greet each other, she tells me her cousin has a letter for me at work.

So I tell her to send it to me at my job.

My wife goes to the internet cafe once a week to check her email. On her next visit, she goes there, and emails her cousin to mail it to me at my job.

It takes a few days before her cousin can do that. She spends 40 pesos on postage.

Yesterday, there's a letter on my desk from my wife's cousin. My first thought was- why am I getting a letter from her? Then I remember my Mom saying I got a letter from someone.

I don't open it. I leave it at work, because I have business to do in town, and don't want to carry a bunch of stuff with me. AT 5pm I come back with Mr. Wong to act as a judge for the 100 meter dash contest for the form 3, 4, and 5 boys and girls. Then I grab it and my other stuff.

Finally, I take the letter home. After a nice refreshing shower, I open up the first envelope, from her cousin in Cebu.

I open up the second envelope, from my Mom in New Jersey.

I take a look at the original envelope. On it is a name and address I don't recognize at all.

I open it up, and it is just a generic Christmas card. The handwritten message inside is written in a nearly indecipherable scrawl. It seems to be wishing me and my daughter a Merry Christmas.

I don't have a daughter.

I check the envelope again. Sure enough, it is addressed to me at my Mom's address, but I still have no idea who it is that sent it, and how they know me. I'm sure no one else does either.

So after all that effort, trouble, and expense, I am left with a card I can't read from someone I don't know from I don't know where.

Sometimes my life is nothing more than an existential object lesson.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Railay and Tonsai Beaches

Rai lay Beach is definitely one of the most beautiful and spectacular beaches in the world. My wife and I went there during Chinese New Year, as our "honeymoon".

Even though it is on the mainland, the only way to get there is by longtail boat from Krabi. That's because the beach is surrounded by such tall, steep cliffs that there is no other way to get there. You have to negotiate a little with the boatman, but prices seem pretty much set.

There are two parts to the peninsula it sits on- the resort side, and the backpacker side. The longtail boat takes you to the backpacker side, which fronts on a mangrove swamp. Not the kind of beach you went there for, but that's OK. The accommodation is cheaper, (about 600 or 700 Baht a night), and since there is no barrier between the resort and backpacker sides, you stay and eat at the cheaper backpacker side, and go to the beaches at the luxurious resort side. The only difference is you will spend at least twice as much for a fancier and maybe more comfortable place to sleep if you stay at one of the resorts.

If you really want to go on the cheap, you can walk over or around the rocks to Tonsai beach, and get yourself a hut for around 350 Baht. If you do, don't expect anything other than the most rudimentary accommodation. But since the huts are really out of the way, they are pretty peaceful. Tonsai is where they do all the rock climbing and base jumping off the cliffs.

There is plenty to do at Railay and Tonsai besides swimming and working on your tan. My wife had always wanted to see a cave, and there were plenty of them for us to explore. You can go island hopping, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, sea kayaking, jungle trekking, (you can even go by elephant if you want), and of course rock climbing and base jumping.

We checked out Ao Nang beach, and while it is very popular, it was too touristy for our taste.

Railay and Tonsai are definitely places to check out if you plan to go to Phuket. As for me, I liked them better than Phuket, because there are no girly bars and really loud tourist traps in Railay and Tonsai.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Morning Sickness

Everything seems to be going well with the pregnancy so far. My wife is going into the eleventh week, and she hadn't really experienced any problems. That was, until yesterday. After school, Mr. Wong dropped me off in town. I got something to eat, went to the Internet cafe to work on my Blog, and wrote some e-mail. Yes, I admit, I spent way too long there- seven hours as a matter of fact. I thought everything was OK at home, because I told my wife to call me or text me if anything was wrong or she needed me.

When I got home, she was asleep on the futon. I felt her head to see if she was sick. She seemed to be OK. I saw her stir a couple times while I was taking a shower and shaving, and figured she was probably mad at me. OK, fair enough.

She woke up after I turned the TV on. Yes, she was a little angry, but even worse, she was having "morning sickness". She went into the bathroom, and proceeded to vomit very loudly. In the meantime, I went in the other bathroom and had a sneezing fit.

The bathrooms in our house seem designed to maximize every embarrassing little sound made in them. They echo like crazy. Urinating in them makes a sound equivalent to Niagara falls, and a soft fart sounds like an elephants trumpeting.

Because of this, my wife's retching became so loud, that people all the way across town could hear it. My sneezing fit sounded like an atomic bomb test.

The neighbors must have had a hell of a time trying to figure out what we were doing in there.

My Mother's Stroke

I got the news at work today, right before my first class. Just before classes started at 7:30 am, I jumped on the computer real quick, to make a quick check of my e-mail.

The message that caught my eye was one from my sister out in Colorado. In the subject line was the word "Mom". I didn't get a good feeling about it, so it was the first message I read.

My Mother had a stroke. Not a major one, but serious enough. Apparently, this is not the first time she has had one, either. They did an MRI, and found that she has been having mini strokes for years. This was just the most serious one.

From what my sister says, she is OK.

The thing was, I was OK about it, too. I went and taught my classes. I didn't give it a second thought. I didn't tell anyone until Mr. Wong was going to drive me home. Usually what I will do is tell someone about my latest tragedy, and play up the sympathy angle. Not this time. I purposely didn't want to have people making a big deal out of it, because it wasn't such a big deal to myself.

It was as if it wasn't my Mom who had the stroke, but some stranger's mother somewhere on the other side of the world. I guess in a way, that's what she is. She has been more of a mother to others than she has to me.

At the best of times, she has been more like an older sister. She would always ask me for advice and confide in me, even when I was very young. Oftentimes I was the one making the drcisions for the family, not her. It was like- "Who is supposed to be the parent here?" At the worst of times, in the distant past, she was a personal demon sent to frustrate and destroy me, and ruin my life. At no time has she really seemed like a mother, even now when she has been supportive and a postive influence in my life.

So it bothers me that I don't feel more. It bothers me that my wife and others are more concerned about her than I am. And it bothers me that this bothers me more than her stroke.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Internet Irritation

Even though I have left the USA, I still like to keep up with things there. I like to keep up with my favorite sports teams, like the Rutgers University Football and Basketball teams, The New York Giants Football team, The New Jersey Nets, and sometimes the New York Yankees, and the New Jersey Hockey team. I also like to read my local paper, The Asbury Park Press, to check in every now and then. In order to read the Jersey papers, you have to go through the website.

What used to happen was you would get part of the story on page 1. In order to continue to page 2, a page appeared asking you to:
Please enter your ZIP Code, year of birth and gender below for full access to our site. Knowing more about our audience will help us provide a better service for you. Thank you.
If you were outside of the USA, a drag down list would appear, asking you to choose which country you were in. It was a pretty comprehensive list, including every possible speck of land on earth. I don't know why, but it pissed me off having to reveal where I was every time I wanted to read the box scores, or see which one of my high school classmates was in prison. So I always chose the most unlikely spot I could think of- the Wallis and Futuna Islands.

Where's that? How the hell would I know? For all I knew, they were somewhere up in the Artic near Spitzbergen, or somewhere in Canada. (OK, it turns out they are in the Pacific between Fiji and Samoa).

Well, after a couple months of telling the folks at that I was viewing there pages from what is probably one of the most remote and godforsaken places on the planet, a change happened on their website. Sure, the same annoying page popped up. This time, though, instead of the annoying drop down list, there was a little link saying:

"Outside the USA? Click here

that would take you to page two with no further problems.

I like to think that I had something to do with that change, that they got tired of seeing some idiot logging in from the Wallis and Futuna Islands, and decided to change the page.

Just another small victory in the fight against internet irritation!

My New Orang Asli Student

Today, Saturday, there was a new student in my 1u class. That's her, in the red shirt, with her family, and Perak State Education Director Datuk Mohammed Zakaria Mohd Noor on the left. They are at her family home near Tapah. Her name is Has Hariff, and she is an Orang Asli. "Orang Asli" means "original people". They are the indigenous people on the Malay peninsula. The Malays consider them backwards, and do very little for them, other than try to exploit them and steal their land.

Her story
originally hit the papers last year, when she achieved 5 A's in her UPSR examinations. This despite her father earning only 300 Ringgit a month (about $86) as a rubber tapper, and her having to study by candlelight.
She wanted to get into one of the government schools for special students. An offer was extended to her, but she turned it down, because it would take her too far from her family. She wanted to go to the school where I teach, Sekolah Menegah Sains Raja Azlan Shah (SERATAS) in Taiping, because she has relatives who live in the area. Of course, since she is an Orang Asli, her application was put on hold.

The reason given by the education minister pictured smiling with her family in the photo op above? According to the Malaysian Star:

He said getting into the school was not easy as about 96,000 applicants were vying for the 6,000 places available there.

SERATAS does not have 6,000 students. There are a little over 600 students. If there were 6,000 students, they'd be living in tents in the Lake Gardens, and we'd be having classes in the parking deck at the new market downtown. I also doubt that there are 96,000 students fighting to get into SERATAS. 9,600? OK, maybe. 960? that might be a little too low. Obviously Mr. Zakaria was greatly inflating things to cover himself and the Education Departments indifference.

It wasn't until an article ran in the Malaysian Star on January 25th that something was done. On Friday, she was waiting in the staff room with her relatives. They looked at me curiously when I walked in after my last class, and they were told that I am the native english teacher. As I headed to the library to use the computers there, they were being shown around, then Has was taken care of by an upper form girl.

Usually we don't have to work on Saturdays, but we are going to be taking two extra days off for Chinese New Year, so we can have a nine day holiday. We have to make up those days in advance, and today was one of those days. We were only told as we were walking out the door yesterday that today was a makeup day, and would be on a Friday schedule. So I walk into my first class, 1U, and she is sitting there in the second row. Since it was 7:20 am on a Saturday, I didn't want to bombard them with a lot of information, so we played a spelling game. She was curious at first, then seemed to be having some trouble understanding me, from what I could see on her face.

I hope she can come in and do well. There is a lot of pressure on the students in this school, and they have a very rigid and difficult schedule. The new principal has made things even tougher than they were before, and some of the students are already starting to crack from the pressure.

Ten girls had to be sent to Taiping Hospital with hysteria, from all the stress, work, and lack of sleep. I hope she can handle all the stress, and do well.

Has has struggled to overcome her circumstances, and has big dreams. It will be interesting to have her in class, and watch her progress in fulfilling those dreams. I am rooting for her to have the kind of life she wants for herself and her family.