Monday, April 30, 2007

Our Newest Addition - The Orchids

While at the English Drama competition in Perlis, I took a trip up to Padang Besar, at the Thai border, with Mr. Wong. Pandang Besar used to be the western gateway from Malaysia into Thailand, until the government built a new facility at Bukit Kayu Hitam in Kedah. Now Padang Besar has seen better days, and most of the car and truck traffic going into Thailand goes through the newer facility. The trains, though, can only pass through Padang Besar.

There is a market there, where you can get clothes and sundry items for cheap without having to go into Thailand. I went there with Mr. Wong, to see if I could get some memento of the trip for my wife. He said that they have good mangoes there for cheap. Trien likes mangoes, so I figured I would get some for her (and the baby).

Well, when we got there, the mangoes didn't look too good, but the clothes were a different story. There were some very nice blouses and dresses that Trien would look really good in, if she wasn't pregnant. I know better than to buy clothes for her, rather than with her, so I had to look for something else.

At the very end of the one market area, nestled by some hawkers stalls, was a guy selling plants. He had a few miniature roses, some strange cactus like plants, but what really caught my eye was the orchids.

That, I figured, would be a good gift for her.

There are lots of orchids in Cebu. You see them everywhere, even in the poorer sections. If I bought her some orchids, I figured, maybe it would make her feel at home.

So I started looking through the selection. There was nice selection of orchids in different sizes, shapes, and colors. The stall owner came around, even though he was on crutches. He spoke pretty decent English, and started explaining about the different orchids he had for sale. This one came from Viet Nam, this one came from Thailand, this one came from the jungle, he sends these down to Putrajaya to be sold, and so on.

I asked Mr. Wong for his opinion, but he didn't say much. The owner showed me some fragrant orchids. I had never heard of fragrant orchids before, and obviously Mr. Wong hadn't either, as he told me to make sure they really were fragrant, and not that the owner had sprayed something on them.

When all was said and done, I bought the orchids pictured here, both "fragrant" orchids.

I liked the purple color of the first one. (This picture is taken a few days after I brought it back, and doesn't really do it justice). I had never seen tiny orchids like the ones in the second picture, so that's why I bought them. They sure smelled nice on the bus ride back to Taiping.

The next day, we took the students up to Padang Besar to get something to eat, (other than school food) and so they could get some souvenirs. Most of them didn't have any money, so I went and asked Mr. Annuar if there was any expense money. (Mr. Wong had driven back home early in the morning.) He took care of them, and afterwards I ate lunch with Mr. Annuar and the bus driver.
Then I went back to the flower stall, and bought this orchid, because I liked the golden orange color.

I called Trien on the bus on the way home (cellphones are such a great invention), and let her know that I was bringing her a surprise. Being a Filipina, she wanted to know what it was. Being an American, of course I wasn't going to tell her.

When I got home she wasn't there. She was out with the other Filipinas after church. So I went and hung up her surprise.

When she got home, we kissed and hugged, and almost immediately she started searching around the apartment looking for her gift. Everywhere, that is, except where I hung them, in the unused bedroom.

It turns out that orchids are her favorite flowers. I always thought that roses were here favorite flowers, because she cried the first time I gave her some. Then again, by doing so, I had broken two of the cardinal rules for a successful relationship with a woman:

1. Never assume anything
2. Never take anything for granted

It seems that she tried to keep orchids in her parents house in Buaya. Since she was making barely enough money to live, that was quite a luxury for her. Buaya backs on to a mangrove swamp, and the well water is extremely salty. So when she watered her orchids, they didn't fare too well.

The small ones I bought, she called "dancing ladies". In Cebu they are very expensive. Plus, they really are fragrant. She liked these the best, because it was something she always liked, but could never ever afford.

Trien got a few tips on orchid care, and ours are doing fine. They are hanging in the front balcony. That way, when Trien has her breakfast, she can open the sliding door, hear the birds sing and watch them fly, and look at her pretty orchids. That makes her very happy. That makes me very happy, too.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The STAR Mariachi Van

We were on our way to Perlis for the SBP School Northern Zone English Drama Competition. We were heading north up the North-South Highway, following the bus from Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), which is only about 25 kilometers from our school.

Each SBP school usually has three school buses: A small van for getting sick students to the clinic or going to town, an older bus to get more students around, and a traveling bus. The traveling school buses for the SBP schools are not your normal yellow school buses. They are comfortable, with air conditioning, captain chair type seats, and a TV and dvd player. They are more like the overnight buses that go to Singapore or Thailand, than a school bus. Here in Malaysia, appearance is everything, and you want to make a good impression when going to a sister school.

One of the kids brought along a DVD of "Ghost Rider", and everyone settled in to watch it. Me? I was more interested in reading the Malaysian Star newspaper, and doing the Sudoku on the comics page. I did see enough of the movie to see that it wasn't worth the six Ringgit ($1.75) the student paid for it.

When we got up around the tollbooths near Butterworth, I put down my paper, and noticed a strange little vehicle between us and the bus from MCKK. We seemed to be in a convoy. It looked to be a van from another SBP school, but I couldn't really be sure. If it was, it was barely big enough to hold the fifteen students that would be taking part. There was absolutely no room for any props or backdrops. Hell, if they had any luggage, they would have to be holding it on their laps.

The paint was worn and faded, and the windows were open because there was no air conditioning. I was surprised that the back tires weren't wobbling like drunken belly dancers, or that there wasn't thick black smoke pouring out of the back.

In the back of the vehicle were a couple of signs: One saying, "Go Pablo", and the other, "Wowee" or something like that. One of the guys in the backseat was playing a guitar, and either had a big curly hairdo, or was wearing a wig. The others were dressed in colorful shirts. It gave the rather startling impression that we were following a destitute itinerant Mexican Mariachi band up to the Thai border.

We pulled up next to the poor little van during a rest stop, and it was from another SBP school- STAR (Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman), in Ipoh. This is a picture of it after we reached our destination.

STAR is an all boys school, like MCKK. That luckless group had to endure a four hour ride through tropical heat in a bumpy little van, with no air conditioning.

Once we got into Kangar, the driver from MCKK got lost, and we had to travel around on some dusty dirt roads while finding our way, and the poor guys from STAR had dust pouring in their windows. By the time we pulled into the school in Kangar, those poor guys really needed a nice long shower, and maybe a nice long hug from their Mommy.

Just to give you an idea of how small the van was, here is a picture of it sitting between the traveling bus, and the everyday school bus from the school in Kangar.

It was only after saying something to Mr. Wong, that I found out that we very well could have been doing the same thing. I didn't know that we had to sign up to use the school buses. Luckily, Mr. Wong has been at SERATAS for twenty three years, and knows how everything works. He reserved the nice traveling bus as soon as he knew when the competition was taking place. Otherwise, there would have been two van loads of dirty, sweaty students pulling into the competition, not one.

All I can say is:

Thank God for Mr. Wong!

He saves the day once again.

Hornbill in Flight

Trien and had finished napping, and were getting ready to go into town when I heard a familiar "laughing" sound outside our window. She didn't know what was wrong, and why I suddenly shot out of bed. I grabbed my camera, and ran to the balcony to try to get some pictures. It was the call of a hornbill.

Sure enough, it was sitting on the roof of the house across from our apartment. It seemed to be calling for its mate, and waiting for an answer. There was no answer coming, and I wondered if something had happened to its mate.

When she was presentable, Trien came out and we watched the hornbill for a couple of minutes. Then we had to leave, because she was hungry, and you don't want to keep a hungry Mommy-to-be waiting.

When we got outside, the hornbill was still sitting on the roof of the house, calling out for its mate and preening itself. (That's just what Trien had been doing only a couple of minutes before. It's amazing how much like humans animals can be!) So I walked over carefully in order not to frighten it, and took a few more pictures, two of which are shown here. Trien waited for me for about 30 seconds, then started waddling her way toward the Lake Gardens, and into town.

After a couple of minutes of moving around beneath it snappin pictures and trying to capture the right pose, I must have moved in to closely, or moved too quickly, and the hornbill flew away into one of the trees behind the house. In that moment, I took a quick reflex shot, trying to catch its flight. I wasn't even sure if I got anything but blank sky. When I reviewed the picture, this is the shot I had taken. I think it is a really nice shot. It looks like it could be used as a logo for something. For me, it was one of those perfect Zen moments of "don't think, just do", that bring out the best results in art.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

My Saturday Workshop

Here is a picture of the students for the workshop I had to teach today. I had to teach "Communication English". At least that was what was written in the meeting room when we had the ceremonial pre-class meeting. I didn't know that was what I was supposed to teach. Lucky I didn't know, because what the heck is "Communication English" anyway? I think they meant was "English Communication". It's hard to break the Manglish habit.

The two Indian guys are technicians, and the rest are office staff. There were supposed to be 21 in my workshop, but these 8 brave souls were the ones that showed up. The gardeners, cooks, and other workers were supposed to be there, but they stayed away in droves. They were obviously very self-conscious about their level of English. One of the gardeners did show up for five minutes, but obviously understood nothing that was going on. He discretely slipped out while my back was turned.

The level of the students varied. The Indian guys English was very good. The rest ranged from okay, to "I can understand most of what you say if you talk slow", to "I can't understand almost anything but I have to be here anyway because the boss says so".

I spent all week getting ready for it. Since I was busy getting ready for the English drama competition since the beginning of April, that was all the time I had. Now that it's over, I wish I had more time to get ready for it. It was kind of fun, and the students seemed to enjoy it, but I know if I had more time, it could have been even better.

I did some work on pronunciation, using a Powerpoint presentation I spent days working on. It explained the sounds of English, and had tongue twisters and jazz chants, and poems for us to read out loud together. After that, we did a running dictation, and some mime activities, which everyone enjoyed.

So what did I get out of it? An envelope with a nice ribbon on it. Inside? 100 Ringgit! (About $30), which was nice. All I expected was a fancy certificate of appreciation. I have about six or seven of those sitting in my desk drawer. I would rather have 100 Ringgit for each one of them instead of the certificates. The money is alot more useful!

(I gave him the award as the best student in the class.
He also got a fancy little envelope with a nice ribbon on it,
but I don't know what, or how much was inside.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Latest Baby News- Our Baby's Gender

We went to the doctor yesterday for our monthly check up. Trien felt that it was a girl, because she was into her girly things, like making sure she was dressed perfectly before stepping outside, wearing makeup, worrrying about her complexion, and things like that. She also felt like she had a connection with the baby inside of her, and that the baby was telling her she was a girl.

Me? I really wanted a boy. I figured there was no way my wife could tell what the sex the baby was. It was just one of those female superstitions, was my thinking.

We were excited about finding out what sex the baby was. Last time we had a sonogram, the baby was so active that the doctor couldn't tell. So the night before we went to the doctor, I talked to the baby and asked if baby could hold still while the doctor took the sonogram, so we could tell if we had a boy or a girl.

We have a good baby, because baby listened and did just what I asked.

When the doctor started the sonogram, baby was moving around. I explained to baby that we were in the doctors office now, and wanted to see if we had a boy or a girl. Sure enough, baby stopped moving, spread its legs a little, and put its hands under it's chin. After the doctor was finished, I told baby it was okay, and baby started moving around again.

Now we know that we knew that we have:


I have to admit that I was disappointed and upset at first, because I really wanted a boy. So did Trien, so did my Dad, (so that there would be a child to carry on the family name), and my Mom. I was hoping for a boy, so I could teach him things, he could carry on the family name, and I could name him after my grandfather, who I was close to and who was good to me.

After a while, I was okay with it. Because now, we are having a beautiful little mestiza. That's what I keep saying to my wife- we are having a beautiful baby girl!

Daddy is very, very happy, and can't wait to hold his sweet little daughter in his arms!

Asian English

Living in Asia, I come across some unusual uses of the English language. Here is one I found when we were at the English drama competition up in Kangar, Perlis.

Mr. Wong, Mr. Annuar, and I went into town to buy some snacks for the students. I picked out a container of cookies in a nice plastic container, that my wife could use after the students had emptied it.

It wasn't until after I took it out of the plastic wrapping that I saw what it said on the top of the container:

Munchy's (Which is the name of the company that makes the cookies)

bite me

Now to an American, if you tell someone to "bite you", you better be ready to fight them!
Either there are some really disgruntled employees at Munchy's, or these are the most ill-tempered cookies I've ever seen.

If you want to see more examples of English abuse in Asia, particularly in Japan, then go to for more howlers.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Why No Posts?

Okay, I haven't posted for a few days because I have been very busy. The students and I were preparing for the English Drama Competition for the Northern Zone of the SBP Schools (government boarding schools) up in Kangar, Perlis. I will write about that and post some photos when I can.

Next up I have to prepare a 3 hour workshop for the staff of the school, who have very limited English skills, and have it ready to go by Saturday. I haven't had time to even think about that yet. That's in addition to planning classes and teaching. And working on the blogging project with my 2k class. Plus there is my wife's pregnancy. So if you don't see many posts, it's not because I have given up. It's because my brain is giving out. There's too many things to think about, to think about things to write about.

After that, we have a vacation!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rugby Soccer Basketball

I like to try to get my students thinking outside the box, and think and do things in new and creative ways, and have fun doing it.

Today I had a relief class. I had to fill in for the Physical Education teacher. He was here, but he was sharing his expertise in Hoki (Boy's Field Hockey) with the coach and players from another school.

I didn't know what to do, so I asked the kids what they wanted to do, which can be dangerous. The girls said they wanted to go to the library or stay in class and study. The boys said they wanted to go outside and play either rugby, soccer, or basketball. Some of the boys said they didn't want to do anything. So I allowed the girls to go upstairs to the library, and I took the boys to the lockerroom by the field, so they could change and run around.

Most of them changed, but some of them didn't. Since today was "club day", when they have club activites, all the students and teachers were dressed up in their club uniforms. Clubs meaning Boy and Girl Scouts, Red Crescent, Firefighting, Army, and other things.

After they changed, I took them to the gymnasium to see if there were any rugby balls, soccer balls, or basketballs we could use. You have to go up to the balcony of the gymnasium to get them, and the balcony is full of bird guano from the Swift's that make the gymnasium their permanent home. The rooms upstairs looked like they had been ransacked by monkeys. There were balls there, but they were all partially deflated.

So they threw down whatever they found that was halfway decent, and we had a fullcourt game of Rugby Soccer Basketball.

We made up the rules as we went along. As you can see from the picture above, one of the rules was that you had to try to make a basket with whatever type of ball you had, while some guys with Hoki sticks tried to block your shot.

So there were students running around with a rugby ball, trying to get to the basket to make a shot, while others were shooting baskets with deflated basketballs, which then doubled a soccer balls, and the soccer balls doubled for everything.

Even the students who hadn't changed were running around in their uniforms getting all sweaty, and everyone had a great time, including me.

Just a bunch of kids having fun and being kids, which they have very little opportunity to do here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Trien's Baby Bump

Here's Trien five months pregnant, and showing off her "baby bump". This picture was taken in the Lake Gardens right outside our apartment, while we were watching for the church van to pick us up.

Give a Hundred Monkeys a Hundred Typewriters and What Will Happen?

You know the old saying, give a hundred monkeys a hundred typewriters, and eventually they will type all the works of Shakespeare. OK, for those of you wondering what would really happen, they actually did a scientific study on this in England, using six macaques. What happened was this:

The alpha male bashed hell out of the computer with a stone and the other monkeys did little else but urinate and defecate on the keyboard. Nevertheless, the monkeys did produce the equivalent of five pages of type with a predilection for the letter S. One researcher said that proved the monkeys were not hitting the keyboard at random, so were part of the way towards literacy. Defending the expenditure, a lecturer said the filmed experiment made very stimulating and fascinating viewing and was cheaper to produce than reality TV, but there was no sign of Shakespeare.

Maybe I find this so funny because I live surrounded by monkeys, and no, you silly person, I don't mean my students. I mean real monkeys, long tailed macaques and dusky leaf monkeys. After having watched them in action, I am surprised they didn't start ripping the computer apart, and trying to eat the components!

For those optimistic types, you have a better chance of winning the lottery a hundred times in a row, than the monkeys typing even one line of Shakespeare. So start buying your tickets now!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

My Hair

(My haircare idols)

Ok, so I am now 45, and will be 46 next month. There is not as much hair on my head as there used to be, but I am not looking like my dad yet. He was gray haired and bald by the time he was my age, but then again, he was married to my Mom. That was enough to make the poor man look like he was 80 when he was only half that age.

My wife, however, is sweet, kind, and patient, and likes to play with my hair. I love it when she does that. Thank God I still have most of my hair, although it is thinning in a couple of spots.

I tend to let it get a bit longish and unkempt. I don't own a comb, and the few times that I have, I either never used it, or lost it very quickly. Basically, I subscribe to the Kurt Vonnegut/Albert Einstein/Ludwig van Beethoven school of hair care. It knows how to grow, so leave it alone.

Lately, I have been using this cheap shampoo I got from the Guardian Pharmacy here in Taiping. It was one of those cheap 6 Ringgit specials in a generic bottle. It says "Hair Regrowth Treatment", or something like that on the label. I figured, what the hell, give it a try. It's only six Ringgit ($1.74). The list of ingredients has stuff like horse nettle and other plants and herbs listed, and it seems to come from some lab in Germany. I figured it was something that didn't sell in Europe or North America, so they are trying to dump it on the market here in Malaysia.

Ahh, so why not? It was just some cheap shampoo. That's all I wanted. It probably wasn't going to work anyway.

Well, guess what? The other day my wife was running her fingers through my hair, and she says:
"Honey, your hair is thicker. Look, you didn't have hair there before! And is this the color your hair was before? It's changed!"

My hair was a grayish brown, sort of a transition color before it went all gray. Now? It's back to brown, with only a few spots of gray left. And there does seem to be more of it. Not bad for some 6 Ringgit shampoo!

When I finish here, I am going to run over to Guardian and buy a lifetime supply. Lord knows, I'll probably need it, what with a baby due in four months!

Bagels in Beijing

In 2003 I was working at the New Day Creations Foster Home and Community Center in Qingyundian, in the Beijing district of the PRC. I wrote a little about that experience in a previous post.

One day Byron and Karen Brenneman, the American half of the operation, and Danny and Eileen Rubirosa, (he is the great-nephew of the famous Latin lover Porfirio Rubirosa, which is actually Danny's real name), who help run the community center and the orphanage, respectively, got an urge for some real New York style bagels. So we piled into the van with their kids, and drove to the outskirts of Beijing, near the airport. We ended up in what turned out to be a light industrial park. When we got there, we were surprised to see a neatly kept, fresh looking bagel shop.

It had the Irish sounding name of Mrs. Shanen's Bagels.

Well, Mrs. Shanen was not Irish, but Chen Lejen, a Taiwan born, Brooklyn raised Chinese-American.

Framed up on the wall was a New York Times article from 1998, that told her story. I would have linked to it here, except that the Times wants you to subscribe to Times Select, or to purchase the article for $4.95. So instead, I will link to the next best article I found.

We went in, but they were getting ready to close. Mrs. Shanen was very kind, and showed us around, and shared her story with us.

She used to work for National Geographic, and did freelance tv production work. While on assignment in the PRC, she met her husband. after a couple of years, they got married, and she moved to Beijing.

Growing up in Brooklyn, she developed a taste for bagels. After moving to China, she missed having those good Brooklyn bagels, so she started experimenting, to see if she could make them on her own.

Eventually, she found the proper recipe and way to make them, and opened up a small factory. At first, she employed impoverished unskilled men and women in the factory. That was, until she found out that the men thought that working meant sitting around all day drinking tea, reading the newspaper, smoking anywhere, and spitting on the floor. When it became obvious that no amount of talk or threats would change their behavior, she fired all the men, and replaced them with women. She found that women were much easier to train, and kept to accepted standards of hygiene.

Her husband had his own little factory, but eventually, her bagel business became so successful, that he sold his business to help her out. That allowed them to open up a couple of different businesses right next door to the bagel shop and restaurant.

After that, even though it was late and they were getting ready to close, we had a couple of their pizzas, which were great.

Mrs. Shanen's Bagels has developed a relationship with the New Day Foster Home, and has helped them out with donations of food for the kids.

So if you're ever in Beijing, and have a craving for bagels, pizza, or good food, go see Mrs. Chen Lejen and her husband at Mrs. Shanen's Bagels. It's worth it, if for nothing else than to talk to Mrs. Chen!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hornbills in Our Backyard

Trien and I were relaxing on the futon when we heard a strange sort of "laughing" sound coming from behind our apartment. It sounded like some sort of bird. So I got up and opened the louvered window, and there was a pair of hornbills sitting in one of the trees. She yelled,"Quick, Honey, get the camera! Hurry! You run, run run!"

It wasn't hard to grab the camera out of the wardrobe. I tried taking a picture of the pair through the louvers, but it came out all dark and fuzzy.

So I decided the best thing to do was to try to take some shots from the balcony. The only problem was that I wasn't wearing any pants, just a pair of briefs. But Trien kept yelling to run out there before they flew away, and not to worry about wearing pants.

Well, I didn't want our new neighbors to wonder why this strange American guy was running around the balcony all excited, with a camera and no pants on. So I fumbled around trying to put on my pants, with Trien excitedly urging me on. Putting my pants on wasn't as easy as it would seem, because one, I am very clumsy, and two, my back is still hurting me. I did the best I could, but by the time I made it to the balcony, the first hornbill had flown away.

I did manage to get this picture of the remaining one. If you click on the picture, it will enlarge and you can see it in the tree. I managed to get another shot off as it was flying away, probably because my wife was yelling so much.

It flew towards the Lake Gardens, where a few days before I saw a hornbill crashing through the trees. I took a picture then, but had to delete it because the camera was on automatic, and it screwed up the focus and the lighting, showing a dark blurry object in the middle of some medium dark leaves.

They must have a nest close by. That's where I will keep my camera, so hopefully I can get some better shots soon.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hamster Powered Paper Shredder

I just thought that this was just too cool, a perfect fit of form, function, and economy. This paper shredder is run by the hamster running in the wheel, and the shredded paper can be used as its bedding.

I know if I had a hamster, I'd be running out to get one of these babies! Even if I didn't have hamster, I'd buy it, and get a hamster, just to see how it worked. Even if I didn't have any paper to shred.

But then, you know, the animal rights activists would find out what I was doing, and say that I was exploiting the poor little hamster. Then I'd have a bunch of cretins from PETA protesting outside my door, demanding I free the poor innocent little slave from his misery.

Meanwhile, how many people right here in Asia are slowly starving to death, in bondage, or otherwise living an unbearable existence, with nobody to speak out for them?

I just don't know about people sometimes. They will get all worked up about some stupid animal being exploited somewhere far across the world, yet not give a crap about some poor human suffering down the street.

Who speaks for them?

English Class Student Pics

The pictures above are of my students in the lowest set in Form 1. They are the ones with the worst English skills. I teach them three times a week.

Last year, the school didn't put the students into sets. The excuse was that there weren't enough teachers to do that. That meant the classes were all mixed levels, with more advanced students mixed in with ones that were barely beyond the beginner stage. As you can imagine, it can be a real challenge to teach mixed level classes. If you tailor your lessons toward the better students, the lower students can't understand what is going on. You end up with a bunch of students looking back at you with blank stares. After that, they will either turn off, or act up. If you tailor the lesson toward the worst students, the better students will finish early, get bored, and will act up. You can give them extra things to do if they finish early, but then they will wonder why they are being given more work to do. If you try for a happy medium, then they all hate it! In any case, you have to spend most of your time with the lower level students, helping them or explaining things to them over and over. That means the more advanced students don't end up getting the attention they might need. Basically, in a mixed level class, everyone loses- the teacher and the students.

This year, after pressure from the Ministry of Education, and CfBT, the NGO I work for, the Form 1 students were given diagnostic tests, and put into sets. I was given the ones who did the worst.

Worst means worst. One of the boys ended up getting a 3 out of 100! someone else got a 13- well, you get the idea.

These kids are definitely more comfortable speaking Malay, and will try to do it all the time if I let them. Of course, I don't let them. I will say in my fake angry voice:

"Is that English?"

And give them my fake one-raised-eyebrow-mean-scowl.

My students even wanted to know how much Malay I understood, to see if they could communicate with me, and forget about speaking English all together. My reply?

"I've been living here for over two years. What do you think?"

Their reaction? The usual:


Sometimes I think "Huh" is their favorite English word.

Even worse than my students speaking Malay is their speaking Manglish, which is Malaysian pidgin English. That is because when they are speaking Manglish, they feel that they are speaking real English, and not some bowdlerized version of it. It doesn't matter that their word order is all wrong, their grammar horrible, and they are using a bunch of words which no native speaker would ever recognize. To them they are speaking real English! The real challenge of my job is trying to break them out of those bad habits they have from speaking Manglish. Hopefully, I can get them to recognize that there is a difference between what they speak, and what the rest of the world recognizes as standard English. If I can do that, then half the battle is already won.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Singing Filipinas and the PIKOM PC Fair

Well, we've made it to the 5 month mark in the pregnancy, and everything is going well. My wife's tummy is getting bigger, but she hasn't put on much weight- only a kilo over the past month. Physically, she is doing ok. Other than some slight nausea and diarrhea the other day, which was probably caused by some bad chicken she ate, everything is ok.

She went swimming with the other Filipinas from Taiping Saturday, at the Coronation Pool near the entrance to Bukit Larut. She said that the baby really enjoyed it. The baby wasn't the only one who enjoyed it- she didn't get home until almost midnight. I was on the phone talking to my Mom when her and her friends came in and started singing Mother's Day songs.

That's ok- I wasn't sitting around the house waiting for her all day. Nope. I was out doing my own thing too. Mr. Wong and I went out to the PIKOM computer show in Penang.

Not that I didn't want to spend time with my wife and her friends, but I really wanted to go to the computer fair. I missed it last year because we were on our trip to Phuket after our second pregnancy misfire. This year I didn't want to miss it, because the one in Penang was supposed to be the biggest one that they are having this year.

Mr. Wong had to drive a student to Penang to take part in the Public Speaking competition at KDU College. At least that was what he told his wife so he could go. It wasn't a lie either- we did have one student who wanted to try to win the trip to London. Originally there were three of them, but the others chickened out, and decided that being part of the school wind orchestra was much more important than potentially embarrassing themselves in front of an audience.

So at 7:30 am Mr. Wong showed up at our place with the student. We went over to the roti channai place at the circus grounds hawker stalls, and had some breakfast first. Anytime I've been anywhere with Mr. Wong, he usually pays because he gets to the proprietor first. This time I made sure that I paid, trying not to seem rude or impolite, or not appreciating Mr. Wong's normal generosity.

After that it was off to Penang, and everything went smoothly. We found KDU with no problem, although we were about 45 minutes late. We dropped off the student, and told him we'd be back later. How much later, we didn't know, because the computer show started at 11, and it wasn't even 10 yet.

To kill some time, we went to the Chowrasta Market, and Mr. Wong showed me where the used bookstores are on the second floor. They are almost literally piled floor to ceiling with books. If you are looking for a certain type of book, just ask the owner and he can find it for you somewhere amongst the piles. If you're an inveterate browser like I am, you could probably spend most of the day looking around there. We spent about an hour there. I came out with two books- one a book about the Holy Spirit, by Dr. Paul Yonggi Cho, whose church in Seoul has 850,000 members. I figured it would make a nice gift for our Pastor for Easter. The other was an ESL book from Cambridge University Press, "All Kinds of Writing", which seemed well worth the 8 Rm I paid for it.

Then it was off to the Penang International Sports Arena for the show. We got there a little after 11, and the place was already packed. Mr. Wong knew right where to go, and we easily found a parking space under the arena.

So we started looking around to see what kind of things they had. I was in the market for another pendrive, as the 1GB one I already have is almost full. When Trien and I were in KL running around between ministries and embassies, I saw a 4GB pendrive that had compression software that would allow you to get 5 times as much space, for about 100Rm. I didn't buy it then, and was hoping I could find it there.

The first thing that caught my eye was the little MP4 music and video players. They looked cool, but turned out to be little more than fancy toys. Sure, you can download songs and videos onto them, but you can't play them on anything else. You can't hook them up to a computer to play the video, or anything else to play or download the music, so what use are they?After learning that, my initial interest passed quickly.

There were plenty of pen drives for sale there of all capacities and prices, but what really caught my eye and my interest were the portable hard drives. The ones being sold in the mezzanine around the outside of the arena were about 270 RM for 80 GB. We were both interested, but instead of buying right away, we decided to look around some more, and see if we could get it cheaper.

Sure enough, when we entered the arena itself and started looking around, we found the prices for the portable hard drives getting cheaper and cheaper the more we looked. The cheapest we found was 178RM for the 80 GB model.

We didn't buy the cheapest one, even though it was made by a well known company. The company is one that is well known for its electronics, and not its computer components. Plus, the guys selling them were selling them already inside of the case, so you couldn't be sure what you were really getting. My New York Scam Radar was going off big time. After talking to Mr. Wong, we both decided to go to the booth selling Seagate brand portable hard drives for 189 Rm without the case. At least then, you could see what you were getting. The case was 13 Rm extra, and they put the hard drive in it for you. After a little soft bargaining, we got the complete package for 199Rm.

After that, it was time to pick up the student. We were late, but not too late. We would have been there sooner, but for some unknown reason, we couldn't find it. It was as if we were stuck in the Bermuda Triangle of Penang. Nothing seemed to make any sense, nothing seemed familiar, and we were running low on fuel. So we stopped for gas, made a bunch of wrong turns, and drove around aimlessly until things looked vaguely familiar enough to get us back to where we should be.

Our student didn't do too well. He only scored 17 out of a possible 40. He didn't seem too happy to have to sit around and watch the semifinals. So we went to the mezzanine and snagged some tea and whatever snacks were left.

After that, it was off to the hawker stalls along Gurney Drive for something to eat. I had the char kuay teow, while Mr. Wong bought a huge plate of tofu and fried food covered with a sweet and hot sauce for us all. The best part about it was watching the student, who was a Malay, trying to use chopsticks for the first time in his life, and failing miserably. Mr. Wong had mercy on him, and asked the hawker for a fork.

After that, it was back to Taiping. We dropped the student at SERATAS, where a few parents were visiting the form 1 students, and having dinner al fresco.

Then it was home for me. I made a quick call to my wife. It was so noisy in the background that I could barely hear her. This time they weren't singing songs, which for a group of Filipinos is very unusual. They were all chattering away happily, and there was laughter in Trien's voice. That was cool, and I was happy she was having such a great time.

I went off to the Internet cafe to surf the 'Net, and waste some time until she got home.

If you want to know, yeah, I did miss her. It's just not the same coming home to an empty house anymore. It never used to bother me before, but now it just seems so empty without her there. Not just empty in the apartment, but empty in my soul, too.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Lake Gardens at Sunset

Taiping Lake Gardens View Toward the BridgeTaiping Lake Gardens View Toward the Bridge Hosted on Zooomr

A picture that I fired off at a moments notice without thinking about it. Like many artistic things that I do without thinking, it came out much better than I could have thought. This photo is now one of my favorites.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The Road

This is the road leading to our new apartment, at dusk. The apartment complex we live in is visible through the trees on the left. The road that circles the Lake Gardens is lined with old Rain Trees, whose branches reach across the road to form a natural green arch, the tips of which dip into the lake.

I had just finished running drama practice, and was sitting near the boathouse, waiting for my wife. She is the figure in black you can see in the picture if you enlarge it. We are going to walk into town to the hawker stalls, and get something to eat. Since it is Qing Ming, the day that the Chinese go to tend their ancestors graves and leave offerings, most of the Chinese hawker stalls will be closed.

Afterwards, we will go home, and love each other, and fall asleep in each others arms.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Monitor Lizard and Monkeys in Motion

My teaching day was over, but I was walking back to school to run drama practice. There was a big monitor lizard eating the garbage the monkeys had pulled from the trash along the side of the road. When I went to take a picture of the monitor lizard, it slowly headed down the embankment to the river (the Sungai Buloh). I went to the edge of the trees, and snapped off the photo you see here. What I didn't know at the time, was that the camera was on automatic, and for some unknown reason, set an eight second shutter speed!

Then I noticed I was getting wet. There were a couple of juvenile long tailed macaques jumping up and down and shaking the trees to try to scare me off. So I took the next photo of them. This time the camera set a six second shutter time. These are the results- blurry surreal shots of the riverbank, and monkeys in motion in the trees!

Monday, April 2, 2007

This Car Gets 100 Miles per Gallon- at 100 Miles per Hour!

Now this is cool. Who wouldn't want a car that can go 100 miles per hour, and get 100 miles per gallon? I know that would be my dream car. Well, that is after a sky blue 1965 Ford Mustang with a 289 V-8 engine. My old 1980 Honda Civic used to get around 45-50 mpg on the highway, but could do 100 mph only if the brakes had failed and I was going off the side of a mountain. but anyway . . .

The Venture is a three wheeled hybrid vehicle. Because it only has three wheels, it can't officially be called a car. Instead, it is classified as a motorcycle. Whatever! The body tilts while the wheels stay on the ground, which means it must be fun taking corners at high speed.

It has safety features like an airbag, side impact beams, etc. The engine is located in the rear, and while it is designed for two passengers, there's not much room to carry alot of gear or take the kids to soccer practice.

I like to see innovative designs like this. I hope this car gets off the ground. We need transport like this to help fight global warming and pollution. If I could get one of these babies now, me and the wife would be flying around the Lake Gardens in style!

More information on the Venture One cars is available at the Venture Vehicles website, or you can get the breaking news at their Blog.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Chinese Grandfathers on the Bridge

This is the little Chinese style bridge near the boathouse in the Lake Gardens. Usually there are Chinese grandfathers hanging around there whiling away the time. They usually don't do or say anything, just sit there and look at each other, day after day after day. It's like a Chinese version of "Waiting for Godot", except that the Vladimir's and Estragon's seem to change everyday. Maybe that's the whole point . . . and the grandfathers are actually part of some sort of nihilistic existential presentation. Maybe they are actually trying to "out-Beckett", Samuel Beckett. Or maybe they are just lonely old men with nothing else to do. I prefer the former to the latter, because if the latter is true, then it's one of the saddest things I've seen in a while . . .