Monday, 31 March 2008


PJ tip me off to the train ride from BCN to Montserrat so I thought I would try it. Well the morning started a little strange. I went down for breakfast at 10.10 am hoping to grab some precious croissant and coffee before heading for the mountains. But I got a shocked. The lights were off and the counters all cleared of food. What's going on? They can't do this. The sign says breakfast 8.30 - 10.30 am on weekends. After some gestulating the attending lady (who wears a uniform like she is going to perform surgery) offerres some croissants and coffee.

After breakfast I stopped at the reception to ask for directions on how to take the train to Montserrat. "Oh, you have to go to the Espanya station". I looked at the map and decided to walk to the station and it took me about 15 or 20 minutes but you discover things like the Sant Antoni old market which is a hive of activity with people selling old stuff (magazines, books, ...

When I got near to the station, I couldn't find and sign saying Espanya station. Then I sported a pretty lady (yes, pretty) distributing a newspaper of sort in a building and approached her to asked for directions. She said "No, you have to go to Catalunya station". What? She's gotta know, right? She works in this area. So, I asked if there is a train station around here. She pointed to the big M sign (for Metro) so I went down and followed the signs. And guess what? This is the right station to Montserrat.

I saw a man a counter with posters behind him advertising Montserrat. He offerred a few packages and I took the complete package with buffet lunch and train and furnicular rides. Everything lah. And then he circled on the leaflet - next train at 12.35 noon. I looked at my "watch" (which is my handphone) and its only past 11 am. Did he say train every hour. Anyway, got my tickets from one of the train staff. And then I spotted the analog clock hanging from the ceiling. It showed 12.10 noon. Then I realised we had move forward one hour during the nite for daylight saving. No wonder I missed my breadfast.

This photo was taken with a quick high-speed snap from the train. Looks like a postcard.

Montserrat is famous for the sedimentation rocks which can be seen from very far.
It is also the place where the Benedict monks have set up a monastery. They produce some famous pastries and chocolate.
Also contributed to publication with "modern" printing press.
If you look carefully in the centre of the picture about, that is one of the two furnicular trains on Montserrat.
I took the train up and went hiking in the nature researve. Lovely view

See the tiny speck on the ledge (left rock)? That's a rock climber.
Now see the picture below. See how high these guys climb?

A long shot of the rock formation.

Evidence that I really did climb, part of the mountain.

Gotta get ready to for my conference. Bye. (apologies, I have not spell-checked some of my writings. Just rushing through)

Sunday, 30 March 2008

gaudi oh gaudi

When friends heard that I was heading for Barcelona, just about everyone had nice things to say about BCN. The food is great. The ladies are beautiful. The architecture is fabulous. I have been here for two nights, and just about everything I heard is true but ... not all food are equal (naturally) and as for the ladies ... hmm ... not enought data to compute, yet.

(note : this may be a long and winded post ... 'cos its 7.22 am and I have one hour to killed before breakfast ... oh, the croissant yesterday morning was incredible, so I had two with butter ... the cold weather is making feel hungry all the time).

The journey in from KL was eventful itself. I sat for more than 12 hours next to a drunk, who was very polite except that he kept bugging people to play with him. "Is this my blanket?" and he'll start pulling the one wrapped around you ... so you have to wake up. And then he will go "oops, mine's right here, on the chair behind me". Said that he's a Swede. Pony tail, in bermuda shorts and colourful t-shirt; has a 12-year daughter. The stewards had their hands full 'cos he was disturbing every one around him. A tall caucasian lady and a male friend even came over and told the drunk to shut-up and go to sleep. The drunk said he made the mistake of drinking coffee as well as the beer and red and white wine. When I got of the plane at Amsterdam, a big caucasian guy came up to me to offer his sympathies and congratulating me for keeping cool. Yah, I said I just ignored him and let him play by himself. Even though the stewardesses and stewards were very cool in handling the drunk, I pointed out that the signs were there - the guy asked for a beer even before take-off. And he asked for the wine to be filled to top of the cup ... and he had red and white at the same time. Apparently he was already drinking on the flight from Sibu. Luckily for me, he was a gentle drunk.

Schilpol Airport felt really cosy, full of people travelling. I liked the layout. Not to grandiose and full of places for people to just sit around. If you are carrying a Malaysia passport, the immigration guys will scrutinise it very closely, even squeezing the embedded smart card ... looking for signs of forgery.

Coming in the BCN on KLM flight, it was all present. Even the sandwiches were really incredibly good - cold sandwiches tastes good too and I am not kidding. Then I browsed through their inflight magazine and was really please that the have a policy for going CO2-neutral. The airline is supporting green projects. And then I took a closer look at the coffee cup which has a paper wrapping proclaiming "green" coffee. Hey, wait a minute, the cup looks familiar. Damn, its a polystyrene cup! What the h@*l? Maybe I should write to the airline. And of course, there is huge amount of rubbish generate by the disposal packaging for the sandwiches.

Arriving at BCN was another surprise. Hey, they don't even bother to look at your passport (did I miss something?). You get your bag from the carousel and walk right through the green lane and out into Barcelona. If this is not tourist-friendly, what is? Then I tried to figure out how to get to the hotel by bus but after looking at the complex map, I just gave up and took the cab, which wasn't too expensive given that the airport is only like 20 km from the city and there was no traffic jam. And the taxi driver thanked me for getting into his cab.

First impression of BCN? It's a very people-friendly city. Extensive network of pedestrianised roads and even free bicyles (but you need to get a special card). The medieval lanes are just lovely - narrow, winding, shaded by the buildings, full of shops and eateries - and filled to the brim with people (thousands and thousands of tourists).

The famous La Rambla in the early morning before the huge crowd arrives.
You can find sidewalk cafes and restaurants, musicians, mimes, florist, even buy a fighting cock or rabbits that look a little like kittens.
Everyone is just walking along, soaking in the atmosphere.

Another view of La Rambla with the tall maple trees (I think) lining the centre lane which is very wide and only for pedestrians.
On both sides are very narrow lanes for vehicles. I think these trees might have inspired Gaudi in the design of the Temple of the Holy Family (La Sangrada Familia). BTW, Gaudi was killed by a tram here.

Ah, finally we get to Gaudi. This a mosiac pattern on the ceiling of one of the structures at the Guell Park, designed by Gaudi of course. The Park was commissioned by Guell for the rich but it was a commercial failure so the city government bought it to be developed into a public park. Gaudi is famous as modernist architect who loved to work with models rather than drawings. Many of his creations in BCN are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Its amazing how much tourist dollar is being squeeze out of Gaudi. Every other thing is about Gaudi.

This is the bedroom where Gaudi rested at the Guell Park. Very minimalist, do you think?
This was what luxury meant in the early 20th Century.

This is La Boqueria Market at La Rambla. So colourful. Everything you need, you can get here, from early morning until evening
I love the place. Everything looks really fresh. Takes a lot of pride to arrange those fruits.

All kinds of fresh seafood and of course meat and even cooked food at la Boqueria.

See the line of red bicycles? They are provided by the City government for free. There's some card-operated mechanism to unlock the bicycles. On the right of the bicycles are bicycle lanes (two directions) but bike lanes don't go everywhere in the city.

The National Art Musuem - this was worth the 6.80 Euro (after 20% discount).
Very nice collection of paintings. Including Picaso - did you know he a local boy?
All those people are sitting on the steps looking down at a panaromic view of BCN ... and of course watching the guy singing on the steps below.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Student Environmental Activism

My Environmental Heroes
Students involved with Kampus Sejahtera making one last stand before they focus on their final semester exams starting next week

Getting the message across in unconventional ways.
I understand there was some honking of support

Why were the students holding up these posters in public?
Well, we noticed many students (and staff) going outside the campus to the shops in Sg Dua and bringing take-away food packed in polystyrene containers. Either they don't care or did not get the message. So the students brought the message to them ... and tried to get them to care.

We have some 10,000 students ... so its a long education process. These are students on the way out to Sg Dua ... the strategy was to talk them before they go out and when they come back in they will would not be carrying polystyrene containers.

Well, a few of the students probably could not stand the sight the polystyrene packaging being brought in to the campus so went up to have a friendly chat. No, we were not out to embarrass them. Some responded sportingly. Others gave the "who the h*@l do you think you are?" stare.

Yes, we were not out to embarrass anyone (which is why I hid the faces) but as you can see, there seems to be a "what do I care", White Coffin or not. But I think the larger issue may be personal taste and even cultural and ethnic eating preferences and habits.

Thank you, guys. Well done. And good luck in your exams. Looking forward to working with you again next semester.

photos courtesy of Pauline

Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Best Things in Life ...

I think the happiest people in and around the USM Main Campus during the annual Convocation celebrations are the florists. It has become a must to have at least one bouquet of flowers for those once in a lifetime photo opportunities with proud parents, family and friends. It is not uncommon to see a graduate with three or more bouquet of flowers, courtesy of friends and family.

We don't want to be party poopers by banning the sale of flowers during the convo. So one student came up with the brilliant idea of offering bouquets on loan. We started small with 8 bouquets offering both fresh local flowers and plastic flowers. Even without much publicity, the reception was quite good. A few even donated some money which we hope to channel to charity.

I think we should have one a specially designed banner (which the graduates seems to like to take photos as backdrops) that says something like "I am a Green Graduate" next to the flower stand. Then we don't have to worry about the borrowers taking a long time to return the loaners.

USM Chancellor (second from left) visiting The White Coffin booth
at the Environmental Convo Roadshow and Exhibition, 22nd Mac 2008

Friday, 21 March 2008

The White Coffin set to fly

USM Vice-Chancellor at a dialogue with student leaders from all public universities
to propagate The White Coffin Campaign

It has been a hectic day. Psst ... am still in my office waiting for another free meal at EQ. Just completed redoing my poster for Barcelona and killing time before I clean my smelly self to be presentable for royalty. Tomorrow is our mini-Convo so we usually have a dinner for the Canselor the night before. Tonight we also recognise our lecturers for their research, publication and teaching. Me? Naw, I am not being "recognised", not tonight anyway.

Oh, back to the hectic day. We had a launching by the Vice-Chancellor of the Earth Hour 2008 and the Environmental Convo and Roadshow this morning. Things dragged a little so I had to walk very fast (which is why I am very smelly) to give a briefing to the Presidents and Secretary-Generals of all the public universities Student Representative Councils. Our students invited them over so that we could share and strategise on how to propagate the sustainable campus agenda in all the other public universities. The student leaders were all very receptive. Now let's see how we can make it happen.

The students created the banners for Earth Hour (see below), with some expert help, and then went out to lobby support of fellow students to take part in Earth Hour 2008, which for USM will take place at 9.00 pm on 29th March 2008 (Saturday). What do you have to do? Just switch off the lights for one hour. Show your commitment to solve global warming.

If you are wondering why we are still making all those plastic banners, we justified it by making the banners informative with tips on what each person can do to overcome global warming. So, that banner will be hung up for a very long time, not just thrown away right after Earth Hour on the 29th of March.

The Earth Hour 2008 banners filled with signatures of students supporting the event

We had a blow out in the afternoon at the Roadshow but diehard fans stayed back to catch the Wanderers (talented USM student musicians), Chee Siang and Andy sing. Boy, was I glad I stayed. Fantastic show guys!

Saturday, 1 March 2008


I was in Kubang Kerian recently with a bus load of students to take The White Coffin campaign to the Health Campus. As I was walking around the two Desasiswa (residential halls) I noticed that there were many bicycles parked under the trees, under the bicycle shades, under building, well everywhere ... but mostly parked! Most of the students seems to just walk to their lectures instead of cycling there. I wonder why? I speculated that it may be because there may be no proper bicycle parking near the lecture halls, on the routes and roads are not bicycle-friendly, or may its because their attire is not suitable for cycling (labs coats and all).

Then this morning I was checking out Barcelona and Amsterdam and found some interesting stuff on bicycling. Amsterdam claims it is the Bicycle Capital of the World (actually of Europe) and I don't doubt that. It seems you need a licence to drive ... ooops, to cycle. And something like 40 or 50% of the travel is by bicycle. Watch this clip :

Then I saw this clip about a bicycle lift in Norway :

Looks like the perfect technology for the USM Main Campus in Penang - everyone complains that the campus is too steep to cycle.

Oh, Barcelona? The city has set up some 100 bicycle stations and once you have a card you can take any bicycle from any station, ride it wherever you want and return it to the nearest station. There is also a green ring around the city with bike paths.

Why the interest in bicycles? Or Barcelona and Amsterdam? Hhmmm ... watch this space for updates.

If you want to read more go 11-most-bike-friendly-cities