Monday, 17 September 2007

Donation Function up and running... and my new shoes

Well, I've finally put up a donation facility. After some deliberation, I decided against a shopping cart as it was just too inflexible. The donation button will take you to the PayPal site where you can donate any sum you are comfortable with.

I've also recently met some very nice people at Gee Hin Chan and Rodalink in Singapore. I had previously bought some stuff from Gee Hin Chan and dropped by again about a week ago to buy my shoes. These are hybrid shoes with the quick-release SPD clips on the bottom, but with a rubber sole you can walk on, just as if they were regular sneakers. The SPDs will give me a more efficient ride as I can pull on the pedal on the uptake - especially useful going uphill.

Gee Hin Chan were very helpful with a few items - I even got a tyre pressure gauge free! - but didn't have the shoes in my size. They referred me to Rodalink in the East Coast who were just as helpful and friendly when I dropped by one day. I picked up a pair of Shimanos for under S$60 which seemed to be a real bargain.

The last time I wore cycling shoes was in 1983. My shoes then had a leather upper and a sole made of wood into which you hammered the cleat. The shoes were upturned at the toes and gave you an Aladdin look when you were off the bike and trying to walk around. The cleats fit snugly around the edge of the pedals and when you tightened the toe clips, your feet were snug as a bug in a rug as it were.

Too snug sometimes... The toe clip straps had a quick release buckle, but you had to lean down and flick it off to release the strap. Then, and only then, could you work your shoe off the pedal. Bad news if you had to stop suddenly...

I fell off the bike comically one day when, after making some adjustments to the gearing, I took off up the slope outside my house in PJ. Nearing the top, I flicked the gear lever down. Turns out my adjustments weren't too good as the chain fell right off the crank... Suddenly slowing, with no drive to the rear wheel, and my feet tightly clasped in the pedals, all I could do was let my reflexes take over and do what anyone losing his balance would normally do - pedal frantically. A hopelessly useless endeavour when your crank is no longer connected to the chain! I slowed to a stop at the top of the slope, my feet whirring madly at the pedals, my eyes going wide at the realisation the horizon was starting slowly to tilt.

I crashed to the ground, worked myself free from the bike and looked quickly around to see if anyone had witnessed my comical descent. Fortunately no one was about so my ego was hardly bruised, even if my left knee was not so fortunate.

Still, it was less embarrassing than the experience one of my cycling buddies had when he stopped at a set of traffic lights, could not work his feet out in time and crashed to the ground right next to a car whose startled occupants watched as he sheepishly got to his feet.

SPDs are much easier - you twist your heel inwards or outwards to dislodge the cleat from the pedal clip. Just have to remember to do that now...

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Wednesday, 12 September 2007

A shot in the arm for the good Doctor

I've been busy planning a route and if you take a look at the Google Map below, you'll see a few places in Johor and Melaka which I've marked out. I'm not certain of going through those towns yet - and I do intend to be quite flexible about my route - but they're places I've either been to or have some intention of visiting for practical or other reasons.

Johor, despite its size, seems to have a dearth of places I'd really like to visit. I've considered one or two other towns I have not marked yet, including Bukit Kepong, whose place in Malayan history was immortalised in a movie which used to be played on local TV on an annual basis. It may be just that little bit off my intended path though.

If you have any ideas of places you think would be worth a visit, for whatever reason, I'd like to hear from you.

Meanwhile, I'm reminded of a tiny town with a strange name, set in the mid-north of Johor, just west of the Endau Rompin National Park. Cha'ah shares its name with a type of tea, though just why that is so is not yet known to me - I promise I will research that, but if you can shed any light on the matter, please do tell.

I must have heard my father mention the name when I was very young. He roamed all around Malaysia, hunting and fishing in remote villages and forests and I owe a great part of interest in the smaller towns and villages of Malaysia to him.

The reason I mention possibly hearing the name is because the next time I heard the name in the early 90s, I instantly recognised it. The person who mentioned it was a Singaporean friend, Diana Heaslett. Diana is now resettled in Australia, but was born in Singapore to English parents. Her father, Dr Heaslett, had lived in Malaya and actually spent some time in Cha'ah during the emergency. He was very well liked by the locals supposedly because he would treat everyone who came to his clinic, regardless of that person's politics.

One evening, returning to his home on the fringe of the estates surrounding the town, his new car was ambushed by some communists. He was shot, but he and his driver survived.

The next day, lying in bed in hospital, he received a strange visitor - one of the communists who had ambushed him the day before. He sheepishly presented the popular doctor some flowers and fruits and then apologetically asked 'Why you don't tell us you got new car, Doctor? We didn't recognise your car... thought it was someone else and ambush you by mistake....'

As evidence of how well liked he was, a street in the town was named after him. If you visit Cha'ah, just off and parallel to the main road, not far from the police station, you'll find a short street running between a row of shophouses and a little football field. It used to be called Jalan Heaslett and you might still see that name in small letters on the road sign. Just below the current name, Jalan Tun Dr Ismail...

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Sunday, 9 September 2007

With a princess on a slow bus to town

I mentioned on a previous post about mixing freely with people of other races when I was younger. Mei suggested I write about some of the friends I had and I thought that would be a great thing to do.

I shall start with someone I knew only briefly and whom I have not met or had any contact with since 1983. I shall probably never meet Puteri Suzanna again, but our short friendship is one I thought captures the spirit of the Malaysia I knew.

Puteri Suzanna, or Sue, joined us for the first few months of Lower Form 6 in La Salle PJ. I have no recollection of where she was from and as she did not stay long enough to have her face immortalised in our school magazine, I am left with just a few memories, especially the little story I will now share.

During my Form 5 holidays, I worked for 3 months at the A+W in PJ. It was a great fun time and I made a few friends I've thought about every now and then in the 24 years since. Working at A+W allowed me to practice my Malay even more than I had done in school so much so that by the time I arrived in Form 6 in early 1983, I was more than a little fluent in the language and very comfortable with my Malay classmates in a way that endeared me to them. Especially the girls...

Now, before you start going off on that tangent, let me explain. La Salle was a boys' school, except for Form 6 which was co-ed. La Salle had, then at least, a reputation for a very strong school spirit and exemplary academic as well as sporting performances. It was a great school to be in and the number of students from other schools who arrived to do their STPM (A-levels) in La Salle PJ was testimony to the excellence of the school.

Consequently, we welcomed a large batch of Malay girls to La Salle in 1983, and being the sociable sort and having already spent 11 years in La Salle, I took it upon myself to make friends with all of them and help them settle in. They appreciated it and I instantly made a number of friends who remained close through our 2 years together. Sue was great fun. I remember her to be a short, bubbly girl, with a ready laugh or smile.

One Friday, we made plans to meet up at A+W on the next morning, so early on Saturday, there I was with Sue and a few others (whom I forget now, such was Sue's magnetism). I remember we had our obligatory root beers and we sat around for quite some time. We talked, we laughed, we had a good time in that innocent way new friends do.

It must have been early in the afternoon when one of the girls had to leave and Sue and I decided to accompany her to town. We got on a mini bus and rode in to KL, chatting and laughing all the way. At the end of the journey, our friend alighted and Sue and I, who really had nowhere to go, remained on the bus, intending to go back to PJ. The conductor, a Malay lady, came over and told us this was the last stop. I smiled at her and said in Malay, 'It's OK, we'll just head on back to PJ. Just for fun, you know.'

The conductor studied Sue and I, figured out I wasn't Malay, then smiled as she tore off two new tickets 'This is accepted now, isn't it?'

It took Sue and I a couple of moments to realise what she meant then both of us laughingly protested we were 'just friends'.

Just friends. Perhaps we might have been more, I don't know. We certainly liked each other and in those days, there was a minute tear in the social fabric, a slight 'acceptance' which we might even have taken advantage of, at least through those formative years in Form 6.

We never found out. Sue left La Salle shortly after and I never saw her again.

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Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Ray of hope and a right pain in the...back

While I'm in a celebratory mood still, I'd like to write about another friend of mine, Ray Webster, a Liverpudlian who has lived in Australia for a few years and who recently took his love affair with Vietnam to another level by packing up and moving there to teach English.

I've known Ray the best part of 12 years now and he's regularly dropped by for a few weeks stay every year on his travels between Perth and Vietnam. We share much in common and this Manchester United supporter forgives him for being a Liverpool Football Club supporter simply for the warmth and depth of his friendship.

Besides both of us being Taureans and having a passion for football, Ray and I share one more thing - a pain in the back. Well, more precisely, we share a medical condition with the full, daunting, name of Ankylosing Spondylitis. AS can be described as an immune system disorder where the body believes something is wrong and creates inflammation in the joints with the good intention of slowing you down while it fixes itself. The trouble of course, is that there isn't anything wrong so the inflammation becomes a hindrance and in more extreme cases, damaging to your joints.

Ray was treated for back pain for years before finally being accurately diagnosed with AS. His journey has lead him through two hip replacements and a host of other issues. Coincidentally, my own back pain was attended to over a period of about 5 years by a couple of doctors and a well-known chiropractor who all gave different diagnoses and recommended treatments that never offered long-term relief.

My own battle with AS is nowhere near as admirable as Ray's though: I have problems with my ankles and wrists and my back is as stiff as a board usually, and I am used to the persistent pain that afflicts all AS sufferers. Still, I have not had to deal with joint replacements or reconstructive surgery to correct the ravages of extra bone formation.

The paradoxical thing about AS is the recommended treatment - exercise. Apparently contrary to common sense, an AS sufferer is best served by working against the pain and keeping in motion as much as possible. Working against the inflammation seemingly confuses the immune system into thinking nothing's wrong after all and the inflammation is then held in check.

In this respect, Ray has been exemplary. A recent bicycle ride through Vietnam was perhaps his third. I don't share his view of AS as an insidious, evil foe to be battled. I am probably much more even-tempered in my opinion of AS. Still, I cannot but have the utmost respect for someone who has chosen to tackle a debilitating disease with sheer will power and grit.

Ray's rides through Vietnam and his other adventures (hitch-hiking through the Sahara, anyone?) have always inspired me and when this gnat began to seriously consider Celebrate Malaysia!, I naturally turned to Ray for advice and encouragement - and both were in no short supply and deeply appreciated.

AS is not as uncommon as you might think and I'd encourage anyone with persistent back pain, or pain in the joints, to read up on AS (I've included a link to the National AS Society of the UK) and seek a doctor's opinion on whether you might be suffering from AS. If you are, fear not - be active and be well.

Ray Webster and a Mancunian, Stuart Garner, in Vietnam. See? Man Utd and Liverpool supporters can be friends!

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Forever Falls - a day trip to Selama in Perak

Fishing in Oil Palm Estates It seems this part of Perak is all about waterfalls. We’d seen signboards for so many in our recent travel...