Monday, September 14, 2009

Of Free Chow, Samplings, and a Sulking Girlfriend

Warning: This post contain massive long-windedness meant to kill time for fast-breaking. Reader's discretion is advised.

Okay. The jig's up. Last weekend was a very deadening-dull, and I was so bored outta my mind. The same effect applied to my housemate who could do nothing better:

Much help he was

It was then I realized that I haven't met with jolly ol' Arif for quite some time now, and since Ipoh has nothing else to offer that I haven't seen, I decided to make an impromptu trip to Penang.

Why Penang?

KL will be too expensive for me, since I have only about a hundred bucks in my wallet. Plus, I have called Arif before, and he said that he has means for us to get a free chow or two. I also remembered my first trip to Penang with only RM50 in my wallet, yet I had survived.

Thus, I grabbed my daypack (which is always readily-packed with two-days' worth of stuff I need, or might need. Maybe I'll blog about this), the car key, and off I went, leaving the UTP gates at about 11.30 am.

Day One

I took the same route to Ipoh along the Ipoh - Lumut highway, but obviously bypassed the Falim exit and continued along the road heading north. Soon, the road ended in a huge T-junction (apologies: I forgot exactly what is the name of the place) and entered the district of Jelapang. Following the signboards, you could never go wrong and I entered the PLUS highway soon after, heading north.

From that point on, I have made about 40 km since I'd left the gates, and there are 140 kilometres more to go to reach the island. Somehow, I felt that the trip up north is more interesting that the journey down south heading home. Along the way, the scenery was much more spectacular - I winded up a hill, went through the hill in a tunnel, and then back out and down the hill. There are several rice fields to the left as I crossed the Kedah-Perak border, and crossed a landmark bridge or two. This was a stark difference to the dull trees and hill flanking you 80% of the time from KL to Perak.

Nevertheless, I reached Penang soon after exited the highway with a fare of about RM17 at the Juru exit. I followed a signboard that says "Georgetown" which will take me onto the Penang Bridge, paying RM7.50 at the toll just before the bridge. After that, I took the leisurely drive on the famed Penang Island Bridge, a marvel right here in Malaysia.

Quick Facts on the Penang Island Bridge (source):
  • Overall length: 13.5km or 8.4 miles, of which 8.4km is over the South Channel.
  • Length of the Penang Island approach: 1.5km
  • Length of the Prai approach: 3.6km
  • Height of the four main towers above water: 101.5m
  • Maximum height of bridge above water at main span: 33m
  • Length of main span: 225m
  • Length of end span: 107.5m
  • Length of other spans: 40m
  • Speed limit on the bridge: 80km/h

Right..I followed the signboard directing me to USM, and right after the bridge exit, a couple of turns led to the Batu Uban gate (one of three gates) of USM. Arif rendezvous with me and escorted me to his residential block, the Cahaya Gemilang student village.

On a side note, with very much due respect, why must these government public universities have silly Malay names? I can tolerate names in Malay, but a combination of seemingly-random Malay words?

Here's a few names I remembered: Cahaya Gemilang, Fajar Bakti, Bakti Permai, and my personal fav - Indah Kembara. What's up with that? Maybe I'm the one not used to it. After all, in UTP we all lived in Village 1, Village 2, V3, V4, V5 and V6. Our academic blocks and lecture rooms are numbered i.e. 20-00-05, 02-02-12, D7, C1, etc. Maybe the people in USM will baulk at that.

Arif stepped into my car, and we're off!

The first destination is the Queensbay Mall, among Penang's latest malls. The place was huge enough, and we killed time by window-shopping. When it was about 6 pm I asked Arif about fast-breaking. He told me that we could get free chow as the mosque in USM provides free fast-breaking meals.

At that moment, horrible flashbacks came to my head:

I remembered in 2006, out of the most severe desperation I had to break my fast at the UTP mosque. I guess I must have missed the memo stating that wearing tshirts and jeans will warrant you cold stares from the religious fanatics, even if it was plain black tshirt and clean, decent jeans. Being the couldn't-care-less-what-other-people-think kinda guy, I headed out to the place where the meal was dished out, and to my ultimate horror was that I saw people carting away piles of rice, curry, and fruits on a large, large serving dish. Wait, somehow that just doesn't quite say it. The food were piled in a large, circular tray about 3' in diameter. The horror was the fact that the heap of food was meant for groups of four to five people (strangers) sitting cross-legged around the circular dish. When it was time to break the one's fasting, one would eat from the large dish much like one's plate..only bigger. Much bigger, and people are eating on your plate too. I don't share my plate, and I don't eat with my fingers. And I don't mix crushed watermelon with rice & beef curry, then scoop it into my mouth. Argh! Disgusting! The horror. I still felt the cramps of sitting cross-legged until now.

Snap back to reality. Arif asked whether I wanted to eat at the USM or not. Before I could answer, he said that they will serve in individual plates. With that, I agreed. On the way back, we stopped by a Ramadhan bazaar and bought a few kuihs just in case.

We arrived back in USM just in time for the fast-breaking meal being dished out. USM have PROPERLY set up a canopy tent with tables for the eating area, and several volunteers dishing out food boarding-school style. The only grief was that people are expected to eat with their fingers, and I groaned at the fact that;

This was still half-way around the world on it's way to my doorstep, and;

This much cheaper back-up set was accidentally left back at home.

Somehow, being I-don't-give-a-damn-what-oher-people-think has its merits, and one of them was that I could pretend that I didn't notice the rest of the people on the table staring at how i ate stupidly with my fingers like an idiot. I just continued scooping the chicken curry rice with my two fingers like a toddler like it was nobody's business. Arif has duly suggested for me to EDC a chow kit too, after reading the EDC-related post I did.

Good call.

The following evening was spent going out to Gurney Plaza, along Penang's famous Gurney Drive. Not to be mistaken with the Gurney Heights condominium where I had resided during my internship in KLCC, Gurney Plaza is among the popular malls people would visit on their trip to Penang. But I can't comment on that since all I did was strolling along and window shopping. We stopped by at McDonald's for some fries and their refillable Coke and caught up on tales of promiscuous friends, the weather, monetary-dreams, and of sulking girlfriends. We left when it was about 3 am, and headed to a mamak called 'Subaidah' for sahur. Arif offered to treat me to their specialty - Nasi Lemak Ayam which was to die for!

A note to UTP students: USM student do actually study at mamaks. Shame on us.

Day Two

Woke up to the sound of Arif playing movies he has gleefully helped himself to from my external hard drive. It was about 11 am and he told me to get ready. I asked him what's the occasion? He told me that I was gonna be a scientist for a day.

It turned out that Arif has been doing water quality samplings from several rivers in Seberang Prai side. He asissts a bubbly post-graduate student, Sheng, on her case study regarding the water quality near several work sites. The rivers around the area was used for agriculture irrigation, and leads to a water treatment plant for human consumption, thus the two would take water samples from the said rivers, and analyze the samples in one of the many labs in USM. Today, I get to tag along and take several samples, feeling what it is like to be a student of a scientific field.

What they would do was to stop at a bridge, and scoop up some water samples from the river below. Temperature and pH readings was recorded using a sensors dipped into the sample. Then, the sample was poured into a couple of glass bottles to be analyzed in the lab later.

Ch'ng, about to take temperature and pH readings. Notice the high-tech, state-of-the-art hydroscoop sampling device by her right hand.

We took samples from two more rivers, and headed to a boarding school to conduct sampling on the air quality and ambient noise, to ensure that a construction site nearby adheres to the related regulations.

Later that evening, we headed back to USM to conduct analysis at the lab.

Arif preparing the buffer solution to carry the sample into. Whatever that means.

Giving it a shot..literally. Very CSI-like

Aerating the buffer solution before putting the water sample in.

As with most methodological objective scientific experiments, the procedure must be repeated and waited out over and over again. I bashfully declared that I've had enough scientific protocols for one day. Arif and I bid Ch'ng goodbye, and I headed out of USM for one more drive around Penang. I was quite adept of finding my way around island by now. Even if one gets lost, how lost could one be on this island?

We stopped by a restaurant for fast-breaking. Joining us was Kiena, and another friend of Arif's whom we call 'Angah' for some reason. He was a final-year student when I'd first came to Penang three years ago, and now he's doing some post-graduate stuff. On another note, he invited me to attend his wedding on the 12/12/2009. Congrats, by the way. Kiena on the other hand was a first-year student, entering USM via a sports scholarship programme. We played tennis once or twice together, and I was surprised to meet her here.

Soon, it was time for me to leave the island. I stopped by the Tesco there to get some grocery and foodstuff to last the week back in UTP. Other than that, I also bought this:

Yerp..Chinese soup spoons. $2.99 for a half-dozen pack. Not as good as sporks, but this would do. I threw one in my bag, my daypack, in the car glove box, and basically, everywhere. Now I'm prepared for some..err, spooning.

The weekend in Penang saved me from dying out of fatal boredom. Now, I'm back to UTP, and back to everyone here, especially to the sulking girlfriend I'm gonna console =P. Don't worry, I'm not packing my bags jut yet. UTP is still the best!

While I was in USM on Monday, 7th of September 2009 the news came late to me of my housmate's father passing away. My condolences.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Special Treatment

We went to Greentown for the unofficial ICT/BIS dinner at a restaurant called Assam..something. Seats were limited, so luckily me, Anep, Amin, Kamil, Rusydi, and Irfan confirmed our attendance early to avoid missing out. There were several gatecrashers and unconfirmed invitees attending too.

Here's a candid shot of us, courtesy of someone's Facebook photo.

Here's the actual picture of me and my mates. We had fun eating by the outside corridor, at a small table with plastic stools.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Hobby #5 - EDC

Can I see a show of hands on who EDC like me?


Let me introduce you to a habit of some people - Every Day Carry (EDC). Like the namesake, we EDC a couple of items that one uses daily, or could be handy in those "what if.." and "you never know when you might need.." situations.

For starters, a basic EDC for most guys is;
  • a wallet with cash, plastics, business cards, etc.
  • a watch
  • a phone, or two
However, EDC enthusiasts carry more, and sometimes, much much more. But at least each person would add along a few items that they frequently need in performing their duty and/or jobs or, like I said, in case of the "what if.." and "you never know when you might need.." situations. The selection of item a person EDCs varies from one another, and I admit that some EDC absurdly or 'over-enthusiastically', but EDC is about collecting things, and that's a hobby! Some people take up photography, some hit the clubs. Some skates, take up martial arts, or frequent the gym. My friends are petrolheads like me, and hit the books too. Hence, EDC is a hobby of collecting things to be prepared. It couldn't get any simpler than that.

Thus, EDC is all about passion (not obsession, I hope) and the desire to 'be prepared' in whatever situation(s) that may come by. Say that you need a lighter, I got a Zippo handy. I don't smoke, but hey, you never know when you need to light something on fire. Right? I've done you a favor. Oops! my Zippo is dry? Never mind. I got a Peanut lighter on my keychain, and a cheap disposable Cricket in my bag somewhere just for that.

I occasionally carry a folding pocket knife with me in the left back pocket of my jeans, nestled in the folds of my bandanna. Sure, you can scoff all you want, or give smart-@ss remarks like:

"Why are you carrying a knife? Want to kill someone?"

Yeah, I've heard them all. What I would coolly reply is:

"A knife is a cutting tool, like any other tool - say, a hammer,"

Then you would say:

"A knife is not a tool. It's a weapon. It could hurt, injure, and/or kill someone."

You think you could never go wrong by saying that, but I'll reply:

"You mean, I couldn't hurt, injure, and/or kill you with a hammer?"

And at this point, the person on the opposite end of the conversation can't rebuke anymore. Works every time =P

Sure, people gets freaked when they discover that someone has a knife on his/her person, but when they need to open a bag of potato chips or something - they know exactly who to look for.

My point is that being prepared makes EDC enthusiasts feel secure and more confident. Here, EDC is practically unheard of, but most of us didn't realize that we carry some things every day just in case that that item might come in handy.

I know some girls carry a tiny, discreet mace (pepper spray) on their keychain. Heck, I gave my girlfriend one of those. Some of us carry USB drives just in case a friend got one of them latest songs on the radio, or for raiding the lecturer his/her lecture notes. Perhaps that iPod, or any other portable music and/or entertainment device in case you get bored? Check your keychain. I bet some of you has a tiny light there somewhere in case you need a light to break the darkness, or even finding the car ignition key slot at night.

You get the idea.

To me, it's all about being prepared, avoiding that dreaded "I-could-have-done-something-or-made-a-difference-if-have.." situation. In other words, EDC culture is all about being PRACTICAL. We disregard even the simplest of things. In a very easy and all too-familliar exemplar, I am furiously frustrated and irritated when someone who are heading to the post office, bank, etc. forgets to carry a pen, and that person is usually in the line in front of me. Obviously you should expect to do some paperwork at the counter, so why not bring your own pen? Do you seriously rely 100% on that stupid pen at the counter, tethered with a string of some sort? Have you given at least the slightest thought that maybe, just maybe, after the hundreds of use it gets, the ink might have run out? Or the fact that hundreds of sweaty, germ-infested hands have touched them?

Noooo. Of course you didn't. It's the Malaysian 'tak apa' (nevermind) attitude. There you go, begging and asking the people around to borrow their respective pen, further delaying and elongating the time spent queing in the sweltering afternoon heat. If all of us thought ahead, and be prepared for it, we could all make a difference - we could be more effective and efficient, saving time for one and all of us. Whoops! Since when do Malaysian think of others but themsleves? My mistake ...

In my opinion, there's nothing wrong in being ready for anything. In fact, why shouldn't we be ready for anything that we might come across? Unless you're one of them nutty religious extremist that reconciles by saying that whatever bad things that happen was fated by God, instead of being ill-prepared. If that's the case, you have just wasted your precious prayer time reading my blog.

But, in case that you have discovered that, you too relish the fact that you could at least try to take charge of your fate and be self-sufficient & dependable, I say congratulations.

Here are some of the things I carry with me - on my person or readily within reach. More will come so I will update more in due time.

Sharps: Leatherman Skeletool CX - It ain't exactly your toolbox-on-a-tool, but it is a sexy, lightweight minimalist multitool that is curvier than Angelina Jolie yet packs the most useful of tools. Most of Tim Leatherman's multitools are basically pliers-with-integrated-knife, but the knife-centric Skeley is best described as a knife-with-integrated-pliers, and the knife it packs is an awesome combo-edge scary-sharp blade made of premium 154CM supersteel alloy that could dry-shave my arm.

Keychain: For now, you see (from the left) my car key, room & padlock key, Gerber Artifact multitool, and a Peanut lighter. Attachment method is via #1 and #3 Nite-Izes S-Biners, and I clip the bigger #3 S-Biner on the belt loop of my jeans just above the front right pocket. The keys and attachments is tucked into the front right pocket.

Brights: My flashlight of choice is the Fenix TA21. Old-skool incandescent bulbs are gone to make way for the ultra-efficient LEDs that packs more lighting power. LEDs outperforms incans in just about everything and it made hi-power flashlights like this smaller. I can't afford a Surefire, so this will do. Apart from the obvious task of lighting things, bright flashlights like these are used by Law Enforcement Officers (LEO). Imagine a SWAT team - can you see that bright white light coming from the little light at the end of their MP-5s and Assault rifles? They use small, hi-powered flashlights as such. These 'tactical' flashlights can actually temporarily blind someone whose vision are dark-adapted. Some are sturdy enough to smack someone with, and features hardened crenalated bezel 'teeth' that can cut someone's forehead open, break windows, pressure point pain applicator, etc. Since we aren't permitted to carry a gun, why not one of these. At least it's better than nothing. Flash. Distract. Attack/Run away.

Recently added:
Okay, I want to add this, but it costs too much with shipping, so I got this instead:

Eating Utensils: Okay this is where people will think that I'm overdoing it, but basically, I EDC things that wil help me get through difficult situations. I find it difficult to eat with my fingers (in the case when I do actually eat rice once in a while, as I don't know, and don't like to eat with my fingers) and not all situation will allow me to get proper eating utensils. Thus, I bring my own. The top picture is a 'Spork' (Spoon + Fork) and it's made of titanium means that it's a lightweight, compact eating utensil. The picture below it is a set of chow by Coghlan's consists of a three-piece stainless steel knife, fork and spoon set clip together for easy carrying. It came complete with vinyl carring case. I got it at Ace Hardware for about RM13.

Thanks for reading!

[... stay tuned]