Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bread and the Circus

Bread and circus. I found out recently that in the times of the Romans, these two items were the basic reason for the Roman Empire to prosper. It was from a recent article in a local daily that prompted me to remind you people out there about this concept. If the citizens in a country had enough food and entertainment, the Government would have no problems whatsoever. Those days meant lots of bread and pasta and gladiators in the arena fighting other gladiators or animals. However, in today’s Malaysian scenario, we seem to be suffering from a lack of both items. Food and entertainment are lacking as we seem to see people complaining all around us as regards to lack of projects to go around, uncaring politicians and cronyism and so on. Crime has risen as many find it hard to procure funds the legal way. In fact, the only entertainment that can be seen is by looking at our politicians, whether from the Barisan Nasional or from the Pakatan Raykat.

This brings me to the recent debate between the previous Chief Minister of Penang and the current Chief Minister of Penang. I spent an hour of my time watching two very different personalities debate on land issues pertaining to Penang. After watching that debate, I rationalised that it was actually a bloody waste of time. Both were clever spokespeople and intelligent in their answers, but one side seems to enjoy pointing fingers at other people and finding faults while not actually giving solutions or solving the problem in the first place. The other side merely stating the obvious in how our current administration works, with its faults and blundering state government officials which are to blame. In the end, nothing was resolved, one party politicking in order to win a second term as Chief Minister and the other, a person who has nothing to lose. I have to say that in this case, I’d put my money into the latter. But this sort of circus isn’t what I’d like to observe as it didn’t solve any of the Penangite’s land issues. I’d suggest that the state government stop pointing fingers and get on with things. Y.A.B. Mr. Lim Guan Eng, you’re the Menteri Besar for God’s sake.

If you read yesterday’s New Straits Times you’d notice that there were about 15 or so articles written on the first four pages dedicated to the Permatang Pauh by-election. Only 1 miserable article was for Anwar Ibrahim, the rest was against him. You must also note that there is another independent contestant, making this election a three way competition, but not a peep from this third person. I don’t even remember his name. I know that the New Straits Times is basically controlled by the powers that be, but could you have more journalistic ethics? The biasness portrayed is worse than watching the news on the Government run RTM channels. This also isn’t the entertainment I am seeking.

Watching the Olympics was good entertainment. It shows you that the Communists are fantastically efficient in holding a major event. The opening and closing was fantastic. Never before had you seen a spectacular display of fireworks, acrobats and beautiful people in one location. Never before had any Government been so blatant and dictatorial in creating an image of a nation. For example, the little girl chosen to lip-sing the theme song for the opening was done purely on her good looks. The singing was done by a girl who was slightly chubby and had a gap in her tooth. All of the women carrying banners, usherettes and those with contact with cameras, VIPs and those that had to do PR work had to attend long interviews and those that were chosen had a nose that cannot be wider than the beginning of the eyes, flawless skin and so forth. Even the children who were supposed to come from various ethnic groups came from one dance academy and were mostly from the Han ethnic group. There was talk that there were additional Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) fireworks for those who watched the opening on TV making it seem like the whole of Beijing was lit up. Amazing detail went through everything, making it the best Olympic to date, bar none. I sometimes wonder if that level of manipulation would ever reach our shores. We’d see our local politicians abuse it thoroughly I guess.

So what kind of cheap entertainment can we seek in the Malaysian Motoring scene as we all seem to be suffering from high petrol prices (which has since dropped by 15sen for 97ron) and a 8.9% inflation in July rating? I can’t think of anything except taking a long drive on some nice B road and forget about the political circus happening around us at the moment. There is this nice stretch aside from the Ulu Yam, Genting, Bukit Tinggi roads that I’d like to mention.

Take the NKVE and exit at the Rawang Toll and head towards Kuala Selangor. That stretch will take you through some tree covered hillside roads that are spectacular and surprisingly very low traffic. Tight and cambered corners as well as slightly bumpy roads make it fun (not major potholes). You can make this a complete circle by taking a left towards Ijok and then back to PJ/KL via Sungei Buloh. Even the roads around Ijok are pretty fun as from the tighter corners earlier, from the Rawang tree covered stretch the road opens up to nice fast corners that some rally-specials would love. You will pass some kampongs along the way and you can soak in the simple life of these folk as you drive by. This is a 45 minute – 1 hour round trip, depending on how fast you can go and the traffic on that day. It is not that long, and worth every minute.

Blasting up and down country roads is a nice source of entertainment, away from badly written newspapers, politicking politicians and even totally manipulated imagery of a country. This simple fun would make anyone happy to the soul and it costs a mere tankful or so of fuel and time away from it all. This is a form of motoring bliss and it takes you away from the political circus and the mayhem that is currently happening. By the way, don’t forget to bring some bread along in case you get hungry.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kenduris, Weddings, School Holidays, Good Food, The Baju Melayu, CROCS (bleargh) and Crocs that I'd wear BUT nothing much about motoring!

It has been a hectic four weeks for my stomach. It first started right about the time my family and I drove to Penang for my sister in law’s wedding and this had culminated over the last weekend in which I had attended 3 (out of 4) wedding receptions. I am can now live without the taste of nasi minyak, beryani rice and tomato rice as well as dhalca, ayam masak merah and boiled eggs for at least 5 months. Last weekend was also the beginning of the school holidays is usually the beginning of more weddings, kenduris, weekend traffic jams along the North-South Highway and so forth. I try to avoid travelling outstation by all means during this period but I think that things may have improved ever since major parts of the highway have already been widened to 3 lanes from 2.

Anyway the reason why most Malay folk like to hold weddings during the school holidays is that everyone can get together for the event and there’s no excuse that this person can’t come or has exams or what not. But I believe that it is because of this, blood pressure and sugar levels of older people will rise to extremely high levels due to the increase in wedding invitations. I dare to say that hospitals and clinics usually have a rise in warded patients right after the holidays due to the phenomenon of everyone eating extremely rich food whether they like it or not. The same goes to the period right after Hari Raya. I mean, if you’re a close relative, you most probably be given some of the leftovers from the kenduri. This means that you will have the same nasi minyak and daging rendang for your breakfast the next day and this leads to more health related problems.

I am a connoisseur of good food but I also like having a decent blood pressure reading most of the time. So, it’s either I don’t eat a lot during the kenduri or I try to be more active than usual after I’ve eaten that large plate of nasi minyak so that I try to burn off some of that oily, greasy good stuff. So last Sunday, after having a plate of Nasi Minyak at a neighbour’s wedding I drove to a shopping complex and basically forced my wife and daughter to go window shopping. This was quite a fair thing to do as you will never lose any weight if you took your car up and down Genting even if it were a manual. The car is doing most of the huffing and puffing and not you. At the Gardens shopping mall I then realised that most of wedding receptions I attended over the past few weeks were held at banquet halls (hotel or club halls) that required me to actually ‘dress up’ to the occasion. This meant that I had to put on formal clothes, i.e the Baju Melayu (left, and no, that's not me in the pic. I'm more 'macho' than that wimp in the photo).

Now the Baju Melayu is the local equivalent of black tie or semi formal gear. (White tie is the more formal, i.e coats with penguin like tails and all, but no one actually knows about this here in this country and it isn’t for me to tell you about it as you could read it up by yourself elsewhere) This is the equivalent of a tuxedo and you should know how a tuxedo looks like. The thing is, a tuxedo consists of a black woolen suit with a black bow tie complementing the lapels, cummerbund or low-cut 3-button waistcoat, and patent leather Oxford shoes appropriately accessorize the tuxedo.

Wearing a tuxedo boils down to two main things, aside from the fact that most Malaysians do not look like James Bond to carry it off properly. The first is that it is rather costly. A proper tailor made tuxedo with satin lapels would cost you at least RM1,400.00 for the suit and waistcoat alone. The proper white shirt another RM200.00. That leaves you with a total of RM1,600.00 with accessories like cufflinks and the bow tie but without adding in a pair of proper English or Italian Oxfords (Bonia shoes do not apply as they're seriously crappy). The second thing is that even with a half lined tropical suit style coat, you are unsuited for our nowadays ridiculously hot and humid Malaysian climate. Even at night, things may heat up before you enter the air-conditioned banquet hall. You may even smell like the cow (or cows) that were recently slaughtered for the main course that day.

If you went out and bought your Baju Melayu, you’d find out that you could get brightly coloured linen and workmanship for around RM300.00 only for the top and pants. Add RM500.00 for a well made kain samping made out of hand woven songket material and about RM50.00 for a traditional songkok and you’re complete for a Malaysian formal function. I am an advocate for using linen in the Baju Melayu. It is extremely cooling to wear and does not have that sheen you get from those silky rayon, polyester like material that is used for most Baju Melayu which also does not allow good air flow and can make you feel sticky also. For totally formal occasions, a black Baju Melayu with a black samping with gold thread is a must. But for weddings, a bright cheery colour is most definitely allowed. In other words, why suffer by wearing a tuxedo or a suit if there are better and more breathable (cooling) local styled alternatives? You see, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

I must also add that you should not wear a pair of CROCS with that outfit, ever. Unlike the story of the couple that I wrote in my previous posting. The only sort of 'CROCS' that are worth having are the ones shown in the pic below. Nice ain't it?

Trivia: Did you also know that Ferrari big kahuna Luca Di Montezemolo once vetoed a customer requesting a full crocodile leather interior for a factory customised Ferrari. Honestly, croco leather for seats and dashboard? Horrid. See? Crocs are despised if used in bad taste.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Some Things That I Have Learnt.

I’ve learnt a few things recently that I wish to share with all of you readers out there. I learnt these things from a recent trip to Butterworth which is located in the state of Pulau Pinang a couple of weeks ago.

1. A mid-morning run at speeds above 155km/h on the North-South Highway during a dry spell leads to a ridiculous amount of tire wear. I had a set of rears that were 85% worn. I honestly thought that they would last till the trip back to KL. Unfortunately, by the time I reached Bukit Merah, there was no sign left of the ‘V’ groove thread pattern left on the rears. It was completely bald. I had to get a new pair of tires in Butterworth when I got there.

The moral of this story is that change tires before you go someplace far.

2. Your car may have a large fuel tank. But at speeds above the century, it needs a larger tank. I have a 50 liter tank in my Impreza and for a trip that has speeds averaging a century, petrol freely drains out. ¼ tank was left before I reached Cangkat Jering, nearby Taiping with another 45 minutes or so of driving to do before Butterworth.

The moral of this story is that you should either get a car with a larger tank or drive slowly or don’t bother and just stop when you feel like it and reach someplace faster than taking a flight.

3. Your bladder may not be as large as you wanted it to be. It was during this trip that I found out that some bladders last longer than most. I had to have a ‘pit-stop’ to alleviate this problem.

The moral of this story is that you and your car may be able to make Butterworth in less than 3 hours. But your occupants cannot.

4. Fat people look fatter wearing crocs on their feet.

There was this 30 something couple which I happened to observe at the Gunung Semanggol rest area (somewhere near Bukit Merah). They were decently dressed in the national dress. The man was wearing the Baju Kurung Melayu and songkok and his wife was wearing the baju kurung with her hair done up in a bun. Both looked immaculate in pink and were slightly on the plus size. They looked immaculate until I came upon their feet, which were housed in a pair of crocs each.

Why do some people spoilt their silhouette but putting on chunky looking footwear when they are CHUNKY themselves? It somehow makes a round ball look even rounder if there ever was such a thing. This guy and his wife looked even rounder than he ever was. He also spoilt his whole Baju Melayu look as he would look like an overweight Hang Tuah wearing the ‘chapal’ instead of looking like Bozo The Clown. Yes, that was what the guy looked in my eyes. A BIG FAT CLOWN.

Look, CROCS are extremely chunky. They SEEM comfortable but they do not give you any real support as the rubber squishes when you put pressure on them. They don’t keep your spine aligned properly and if you are a motorhead, they are too chunky to be proper driving shoes. You can never properly heel and toe or even left foot brake in those clown shoes. Spend money, buy some proper Italian loafers with a driving sole (the one that has a sole curves all the way to the top of your heel). Tod’s driving shoes come to mind or even the PUMA speedcat series. Heck, or buy some cheap BATA driving mocs. I will respect you better than wearing fat Crocs on your way to a wedding up North. I shudder at the thought that the couple was driving to a wedding all done up in formal/national wear and wearing Crocs to attend that wedding. It made them look so underdressed. It’s like going to a black-tie function in a pair of sneakers. Also, FAT people shouldn’t wear fat looking shoes. Period. You can find comfort while looking good okay.

I once bought a pair of imitation CROCS that cost me RM10.00. That is as much money as I would spend for a chunky pair of clown slippers. I wear them when I have to walk to the garbage disposal room to throw garbage and even then I think I look crappy in them. Cheaper flip-flops look better on me.

The moral of the story is that if you are fat, for the love of God stay away from CROCS.


Image of crocs: courtesy of : maddox.xmission.com

If the fat guy in the painting wore crocs that were pink in colour, he would certainly be one ugly fat clown.