Monday, 31 August 2009

Contested Spaces

This "new" editor on the blogspot is driving me nuts. It's got some neat features for uploading images but moving the pictures around is really clumsy. So, am not going to try too hard for now.

Am sitting on by garden bench, listening to the birds happily chirping away. My papaya tree is fruiting finally. The other papaya tree outside our compound is sprouting a lot of flowers (for many months already) but doesn't seem to be able to bear fruit. Must be Jantan (male)! My longan-mata kuching plants is a little stressed after I transplanted it a little further away from the papaya tree but I think it will heal itself; otherwise I will slap myself.

And yes, testing out the mobile broadband my wife just acquired for our daughter who is is feeling a lot of pain in UPM with its almost non-existent Internet connection at her hostel. And a lot of that pain is also felt by the students in the hostels in USM too. The upload speed according to the little counter that comes with the package says something like 40 kbps to about 70 kbps. That really is not broadband. Yah, Yah, hopefully, UPM which is smack in the Multimedia SUPER CORRIDOR will enjoy better speeds.

The first picture up there? It's my neighbour who seems very happy celebrating Merdeka. Yes, Merdeka today. I looked along the whole row of my street. Only one house's got the flag up.

Ah, but behind our house is a huge padang (field) with many flags. But not the National flag; or even the State flag. They are flags celebrating the Month of the Hungry Ghosts. The Seventh Lunar month where Chinese believe the spirits of the dearly departure roam freely on Earth. My youngest daughter asked "why do they like our padang so much?". There are actually two other equally big padang less than 100 metres away. The Teo Chew Opera came and went. It wasn't as much fun as before. And the horrible modern dancers and singing was unbearable (earth-shakingly loud). I think the volume and vibrations from the speakers are a health hazard.

Last night they had a big dinner after all the ceremonies including the big bonfire of paper. They cook right there of course. I hope they don't go back running for the toilet. The signing was bearable. And they ended by about 10.30 pm. What do they do at the dinner? One big  event is the lelong (auction). Technically speaking, it is to collect money for charity. They mentioned a few people who needed medical attention. They also collected more than RM1,000 for the Chinese Primary School in the area (pittance, me thinks). One interesting auction was to take home the image of the Jade Emperor statuette. It went for about RM4,000 +. Generally, businessmen want to bring IT home for goodluck.

Of course, some of you may have heard about the more unsavoury practices of these auctions. The uncomplimentary remarks it that they are no more than "legalised extortion".  And we shall leave it at that.

(the system seems very slow when typing with this boradband connected).

So, what about contested spaces? It's when members of the public claim a public space for another use which is different from that originally planned. For instance, our shophouse five-foot ways are blocked and clogged up with motorbikes or wares to be sold by the shopowners. As for the padang behind our house, some one has set up a sort of "club house" where they drink and play cards and socialise into the middle of the night. There's that small little temple; someone did complain; the authorities came, took pictures, don't know what happened. Us, complain? We decided not; where are they going to go? We only wish that they don't throw rubbish everywhere after an event. Lower the "heart-wrenching" loudness; stick with the opera and get rid of the skimpy girls jumping around who can't really sing.

If you want to read more about contested spaces, try Gywn Jenkins book on George Town; based on her PhD thesis. Also some good stuff by Nihal Perera on Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Warm reception

Life without Handphones got many people quite stirred up. Since then I have read up a little and talked to a few people, including an expert on environmental health/safety.

This is, in a gist, is what I can conclude:
  • the evidence so far does not show any links between handphone radiation and cancer
  • but the epistemological studies will take maybe another 10 years to show any conclusive evidence (either way)
  • handphone radiation is what is called non-ionizing; in plain language it won't cook your brains, or other parts of your body (i.e. it won't modify your DNA);
  • but the radiation may actually make your flesh feel hot (it's not just the battery but also the radiation) especially if you keep you handphone in you trouser pocket
  • the ionizing radiation are x-ray and gamma-rays (I heard from someone that radiographers working in cancer hospitals are sterile because of their work; a myth probably?)
  • we should, however, walk on the side of caution; reduce our exposure to handphone radiations (don't talk for hours on the handphone; just say "hello ... Ok, yes, ... bye")
  • you can reduce radiation to your body by using a cordless earpiece or earphone with cord; keeping the antenna further away from your body reduces radiation; but carrying your handphone in a porch around your waist when talking on the handphone does not help
  • you should not only be concerned about the handset but also the transmitting or base station; in fact, if you are using a handphone behind an obstacle such as abuilding, the station may try to send out a stronger signal; that means the people who are near the transmitting station (residents, office workers) will be the ones getting more radiation
  • and our transmitting towers are at Chancellory and the Computer Science School full of people underneath; also at the water tower near the tadika

We had a meeting of "powerful enough people" (which includes me, I guess) just about half an hour ago and this was our consensus:

  • we agreed that shutting down the towers, without any feasible alternative, is not a good solution (tak sejahtera lah)
  • we need to engage the Multimedia Commission; talk to their experts to get their points of view
  • we need to walk on the side of caution; we need to create greater awareness amongst handphone users of the potential hazards (don't talk on the handphone for more than 5 minutes at a time for instance); we need to call in some experts for seminars and workshops (not just for the campus community but for everybody)
  • we need to engage the telcos (all of the them) and discuss a better solution for the campus; one proposal is to shift all the transmitting stations across to the unpopulated hillside of the campus; make sure the hostels are not in the "direct line of fire"; all the telcos to share the cost of one common tower.
  • we should also engage the telcos on responsible marketing; they try to encourage you to talk more on the handphones (the more you talk the cheaper the rate! yah right)

When we got all the facts together, we will put up a plan and alternative proposal to the University Authorities for a decision.

So, what you think? Any other ideas?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

HongKie Town

OK, I hope the Hong Kong people are not offended by the title. This is my fourth trip into the city. Landed at 6.45 am and got picked up by my "old" friend from HBP days (Chin Hock) at about 8.30 am for a half day tour. Everytime I come to Hong Kong, he plays host. We had dim sum of course and went back to the noodle shop he brought me to in an earlier visit for lunch. Visited some of his projects and chatted about the social transformation taking place in Hong Kong. All the industries are moving to China because development costs are lower and operational cost (like labour) is also much lower. So the lower rung of society in Hong Kong are faced with much fewer jobs options. They really cannot pick and choose anymore. Many industrial zones in the city have been rezoned to "business or other use". Which means many old industrial highrise (yes, multistorey factories) are being torn down to be rebuilt as offices. It's all built and sell here. Yes, you can sell before completion but you get the money only after the Occupational Certificate is obtained, followed by the Compliance Certificate. The last one is from the land office which certifies that the crown lease have been properly registered. Seems a lot easier than the Strata Titles Act back home. But I hear also alot of complaints about bureaucratic bottlenecks in the government approval system. Sounds like home.

The other thing which sort of gets Chin Hock animated is how the activist are pushing their agenda to the detriment of business. For instance, the activists accused the government of benefitting only the rich developers when auctioning land for development. So the process was changed but now the government officers have to watch the backs all the time, including abandoning auctions which seemed to fetch too low a price. So this affects the supply of land for development. We both agreed that for "real democracy" to work, we have to first learn how to listen to one another. Often the public forums on TV are lopsided. The moderator leans to the side which he/she favours and shuts up the other side.

As in any social networks there are weaknesses. For instance if you are really poor and entitled to government aid, you can actually be quite rich. Say you have 4 kids and you are a single parent, and poor, you can get about $3,000-4,000 per kid per month - that's like $10,000 a month in aid. Not bad huh, for being poor.

The flight from Chicago was uneventful. Perhaps an anti-climax. I decided to go early. Took the train from downtown Chicago. Costs only $2.25 compared to about $30 for airport shuttle - and much less carbon. No jam, but very noisy. And Chicago bade farewell with a drizzle (it was dry the whole week). Reached airport about 4 pm, queued and got attended to at 4.30. With fingers crossed I dumped all the documents on the counter. Yah, yah, the lady said the records still don't match but goes ahead punching a lot of keys. "Hey, I'm going to put you on an earlier flight at 5.30 pm; there's been lots of delays today", she said. I was a little surprised but OK (original flight 8.30), if I can make it to the plane. Got my bag checked thru' to Penang and all boarding passes printed. Everythings A, OK. That means more time to kill in LA. And let me tell you LA Airport is one big boring place - for shoppers that is. Hope they keep it that way. I wanted to have one last meal of udon at the airport but saw that they used disposal hard plastic bowls so decided to skip. Ended up with an organic banana.

My last tourist duty in Chicago was the Field Museum. Man, this is one World Class Museum. I would say a class of its own. For USD15 you can roam around all the open exhibits but if you want the specials (like 3-D dinosaurs, pirates, etc) it goes up to about $34. If you only got one or 2 hours just go for the basic. Its an ABSOLUTE MUST SEE. Honestly. I love the evolution exhibits, the wildlife (I think the taxidermist did an incredible job). Some of the exhibits have been there for more than 100 years from the time of the Columbian Exposition. And the dedication of the early explorers is amazing. And there's big bad SUE. Well, they have got the bad rap because of all the Jurassic movies. Sue is actually an almost complete authentic real-life skeleton of a T. Rex. Actually they don't know if it is a boy or girl; Sue is the name of the fossil hunter who discovered it. I wonder how much she got for it. Probably peanuts. But Sue was in a legal dispute and the Field Museum working with McDonalds (yes, that one) put in a bid of USD8.4 million to get the fossils. So, who got rich from nature's work? I think the fact that you can see a real dinosaur makes you believe they existed hundred of millions of years ago. And even without the skins and meat.

Goodbye Windy City. Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to eat the famous thick pizza. Maybe another time.

@HongKong Airport
p.s. Thanks Chin Hock for another lovely visit.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Super-size Me

Yesterday, I started out at about 9 am and headed for the Institute of Art Chicago but it opens only at 10 so I decided to walk all the way to Chinatown. It’s a very pleasant walk along Michigan Ave, nice walkways with lots of beautiful colour flowers, lots of people walking, skyscrapers on one side. But as I headed further south and then west in the direction of Chinatown, it became more rundown and less people on the streets. I even encountered a guy who I think was openly shooting drugs on the sidewalk. Took me an hour to walk.

Chinese are footloose. You find them everywhere. Chinatown Chicago is busy with lots of people on the commercial streets which is essentially to L-shaped streets. The Chinese hang out on the sidewalks, squatting, sitting, smoking, chatting. It’s their social space. I think it is a habit carried over from China where the tenements in cities are too crowded so people spend a lot of time in the open. The facial features looked very different and the language (dailect) they spoke was very alien to me.

Dim Sum restaurants predominates. I was hunting for a noodle shop, the ones with the BBQ meat hanging on a window display and will have rice or noodles to go with it. The only shop which advertised noodles was a Vietnamese shop. After circling Chinatown (took only about 10 or 15 minutes), I picked one which offerred several kinds of noodles (but no BBQ).

I looked at the menu and chose a noodle with fish and thought I would also try their Chee Cheong Fun. I put the ticks on the order form, the waitress came over. I said (rather than asked), “the noodle is big, right?”. Yes, was all she said. But she did look a little sceptically at me. When the plate of noodle came, I got a huge shock. It was fit for a few kings. I think at least three or four people. I was a little cheesed. The waitress could have warned me! But the noodles was piping hot and the fish tasted good (not fishy).

A lady came over and started chatting so I showed off my Mandarin. She pointed to the dishes and she was wearing an apron, so I jumped to the conclusion she had something to do with the dishes. “You cooked this?”, I said in Mandarin. Yes, she said. They are very good, I complimented. This made her day. She also pointed to the thin wide noodles and the Chee Cheong Fun. “You made them?”, I guessed. Yes, in the basement, she said. Ah, first time a cook in Chinese Restaurant has bothered coming up to get customer feedback. But I said, “this is too much, I can’t finish this”. She said to take it home. But my home is Penang! As she left, she proudly told the waitress that the customer said “hoe seck” (delicious, in Cantonese). The waitress responded “when you are hungry, everything is good”. Typical Chinese retort.

How much did I eat? I finished the Chee Cheong Fun but there was more than half of the noodles left. The noodles was only about USD12.

So, be warned. This is super-sized country. BTW, I passed by McDonalds and saw they are using exactly the same polystyrene form containers for breakfast that they use in Malaysia. But their coffee is in paper cups.

Then I took the Red Line back to the Institute of Art and it took perhaps 15 minutes including some walking. The Institute has got a huge collection including Egyptian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and more. What I really appreciated most was the miniature sets of the interiors such as living rooms and kitchens of various periods of houses in America. This was about the only displays which I thought was “local” or shall we say contributed by people of Chicago. The rest are actually “stolen” from other cultures. OK, I am making a point here. I said this to Harold (not in those words) and he said, “Ya, many museums in Europe are now sending back the exhibits to their country of orgin”.

One thing about Americans is that eating out (especially dinner) is almost like a cultural experience. They check out restaurants, book way ahead and when it comes to ordering, the waiter (or person taking orders) have to be very well-informed about the menu. Some do it better than others. Last night Harold and family took me on a train ride for about 30 minutes to the outskirts of Chicago for sushi. The restaurant is only sushi. No noodles, no teriyaki. It was really good. And I learned from D Marie how to eat sashimi with sushi rice in a bowl. And I also learned that sashimi should not be pre-cut. It should be cut and served immediately.

I leave tonight. Hope the airlines don’t give me a hassled. Will still have time for the Field Museum (real dinosaur skeletons there) and perhaps contribute a little to the local economy.

Thank you, Chicago. Thank you Harold, D, Reuben … and Kiran and Shin Cheng. I am sure we will meet again. Not forgetting WEGE Foundation, SecondNature. Barbara, Shirley ..

Oh, I like the “Zip-Out Check-Out” offered by Palmer House. Just call and extension and leave a voice mail to say what time you are checking out. No need to queue up.

I thought this photo capture the Chinese spirit. As I turned the corner from the commercial street into the residential area, I saw vegetable plots. Further down there was a reconstructed apartment, gated, set-back, and instead of vegetables were flowers. So, the older generation probably need the vegetables while the younger are holding jobs in the office. The thing which thought was non-Chinese was the architecture.

As I turned another corner, I saw three or four ladies selling what must be harvests from their vegetable gardens. I thought it very cool. Support local people, local produce, bring life to the streets. Wonder if they have to play cat-and-mouse game with the city enforcement.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Chicago, the favourite city

Chicago is a lovely city. Easy to walk. Public transport pretty good, except the old heritage train makes one helluva noise - you can't hear yourself talking when it passes by overhead. Went on the Architectural Cruise on the Chicago River. Thought it was too expensive (USD36) but it came with free drinks, coffee and cookies. The commentator seemed very well-informed and the upper-deck was packed. Everywhere we could see queues of people waiting for their boat rides. So that is big business; there's more than one architectural tour company. Which makes me wonder why they haven't got a system to visually or physical identify buildings to help idiots like me focus on the building when the commentary is going on. "the building on the right", "the one on the left" ... I was completely lost most of the time which building he was talking about. Anyway, as I said, I can only take about 15 minutes and then I go blank when it comes to guided tour. To top that, I hadn't slept the whole of previous night. Ah, but learnt about how the used shovels (yes, not monster excavators) to dig through the glaciers so that they could force the Chicago River to reverse its flow. Why you ask? Because the river had become a rubbish and sewer dump. Not surprisingly, the states down river didn't think much about dumping the rubbish in their backyard and sued. But lost. It wouldnt' have happened in this day an age (it happened like maybe a hundred years ago; not sure).

Our presentations by the international panelists from Malaysia (me), Taiwan (Yeh SC), India (Kiran) and Scotland (Andrew) went very well. Each of us had only 7 minutes but I think I cheated. Yeh said I probably spoke for 10. It was very short so it was mainly overview.
Shin Cheng and Andrew
Lik Meng and Harold. Kiran hidden behind me.

The presentation by the President of the US Green Building Council was I thought very good. Presentation skills very good. Slides excellent. But I think the message was more important. He was very pushy. Yes, everyone thinks that its just a scam to make money. When they started more than 10 years ago, people slammed their doors and won't even talk to the greenies from the Council. Now it seems that there are more than 100,000 LEED AP (accredited professionals), people who are certified to help you achieve LEED certification. According to the guy, the amount of money which the Council gets to give you the cert is very small; sometimes even just one cent per sq foot; sometimes as hight as 11 cents. So that's very small. Most of the added cost is the professional consultants to help you through the design, modelling, and documentation for submission to get the certification. One question from the floor was concerning building owners who wanted to meet the criteria for green buildings but didn't want to go for certification. The response was that certification is a third party validation. So you know what the owner claims is true. Apparently (at least according to a few people at the Summit), students (68%) are demanding that their universities go for green buildings; some said that students are also asking whether the universities have green buildings when they apply for admission.
The Green Building at University of Illinois Chicago. On the right is the refurbished green portion, on the left is the original building. Used for lectures.

This, I thought, was neat. Greening the roof with shallow plastic plates planted with what I think are desert-like plants. A student project at Saint Xavier University.

We met a lady who was an exchange student in Taiwan and she now works as a "Carbon Accounting Coordinator". So, that's a new green job. She says she can help teach or guide our students in compute our GHG. I told Yeh that if he invites her to Taiwan, then I will maybe invite her to Penang. Save some carbon, right?
Another green business. Organic and local. But still alot of plastic wraps. The book to put the apple, bag of chips and the turkey sandwich was really unnecessary.

OK, better stop before my one hour Internet credits cuts me off again. (BTW, I was cut off so this is delayed posting again).

A "clean air hybrid bus". We should explore having these on USM campus.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Green buildings

I went for the tour of three green buildings in 2 campuses in Chicago yesterday. Today, its all about climate change. President Bill Clinton gave a keynote amidst tight security. He was selling climate change. Well, he was telling the audience all about how working to solve global warming can create millions of jobs and told them about various financial instruments available for universities planning on greening their campuses. Perhaps that's the significant factor in America. You really got to justify the costs. Someone said he was incredulous when one participant asked what is the payback period for the whiteboard in the classroom of the green building.

During the green building tour we visited two new residential halls and a retrofit of a lecture/class room complex. From various conversations, I gather that even if you say improve efficiency by 30% it may still not lead to sustainability. Because the reduction is based on a baseline which is really way too high in consumption of energy in the first place. Even geo-thermal is not really "free" because it involves a lot of pumping of the water to carry heat either into the ground or from the ground to the building (depending on summer or winter). Then there was a LEED certified practitioner (she certifies LEED buildings) who did not think that the current way is going to lead to sustainability because it lacks the social-culture elements, e.g. using local or indigenous knowledge or skills or materials. Another thing we talked about is that some of these green buildings are designed as a closed system. E.g. some buildings have floor to ceiling glass windows which cannot be opened. Why? Cause people opening the windows will screw up the smart building operating system.

One question which I put forth to several people is will tackling climate change lead to sustainability. Most agree it is a necessary condition but not sufficient. Climate change is only one part of the sustainability agenda. One lady say maybe 1/12th; one director sustainability at a Michigan university said maybe about half. Me, I don't know, but I think definitely not more than one quarter. So, why the focus on climate change and not the larger sustainability agenda? My take is that going carbon-neutral is much much easier to set targets, implement, measure and attain. So, it is good. We will learn from their success and failures.

Dinner was at the Cultural Centre. We had beef which was from a local source. (BTW, one of the criteria for green buildings is that the construction materials must come from within a 500 miles radius). And the guest speaker was Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry. I bought the book two weeks ago in KL and is a must read for anyone thinking about doing sustainability. Her talk was really very good with some really lovely pictures (will try to get them). She actually walked passed about 10 or 15 minutes ago (it is pass midnight here) and she said Hi, as though she recognised me from somewhere (am sitting in the lift lobby; haha). I was busy being a keyboard monkey. Will try to go say Hi to her tomorrow if she is still around. I love what she said about the know should be available everyone, not patent. Just patent your products. Unfortunately, I am still in jetlag so though she was really engaging, I nodded off a few times. But I have read her book. Her talk just reinforce my respect for her work.

This seems to be a very historic hotel, with over 1,000 rooms. Clinton said he had his victory celebration. Of course, all hotels try to be green. They have card telling you, please reuse your towel by hanging them on the hook (put them in the bathtub if you want it changed). I having been hanging it up on the hook everyday. But everyday when I come back to the room, there is a new towel on the rack. And the air-condition is terribly cold, especially for us from hot climates. There's also a sign saying the try to be green by, amongst others, not using disposable cups and utensils. Well, disposal paper cups are available for the coffee breaks (along with the reusable porcelain cups). But the most telling thing is that probably about half the participants choose to use the disposable cups. So ... I guess we are a long way off from sustainability.

(p.s. this original post did not go through. This is a delayed posting)

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

How're U Doing?

One of my concerns is whether USM is really up there in front when it comes to sustainability. Are universities elsewhere already far ahead that it’s makes no sense trying to claim a front seat. Or in our case, claiming that we will become world renown by choosing the sustainability platform. If you search the web you will find many universities with various efforts, with a few claiming efforts dating back 10 years. Or more. So can USM really claim that we are really forging the path under our APEX U transformation plan? Well, in the last few hours I found out that even though hundreds or perhaps thousands of universities have signed and made commitments for climate change and sustainable development, most have no idea what it really means. Just about everyone is struggling to operationalise the ideals. So, I am comforted in two ways. One, USM is out in front. Two, I was quite right in bugging USM to walk the talk. When the time comes, we will have to show proof that we have indeed moved towards sustainability. I have no doubt that it is impossible to achieve sustainability in the near term. Definitely not in 5 years. Not even in 20. We have not even agreed on how we should measure “having achieved sustainability”.

Ah, so how is Chicago? As usual, my preferred mode to see the city is to walk. Very carbon-neutral, eh? According to the clock on my notebook, it is 1.20 pm Wednesday in Penang. According to the hotel room alarm clock it is 12.22 am Wednesday. So I am about 13 hours behind. Jetlag is always a problem for me.

There’s no WIFI in the hotel rooms; they only have cable Internet in the rooms. WIFI is available in the public areas like lobby, charged thru the credit card at USD6.90 for one hour – then you get logged out. Hhmm, maybe that’s a good model cause I then don’t spend too much time online (am writing this on word-processor first before going to upload; will save me precious online time). But it’s cheaper if you use the cable Internet which only USD14 for 24 hours. But you don’t need 24 hours online, right. Go see the city!

Which is what I did after going to sleep at 4 am, forcing myself to get up at about 8 am. Skipped breakfast (actually skipped dinner the previous night too) and started walking towards the Navy Pier which is almost like the Pier 49 of San Francisco. Along the way spent sometime wondering in the Millenium Park. Its got some lovely public art but I think the most important thing is the activities they organise. This month there are some free concerts. You can even watch them rehearse. And the open air auditorium is really cool. It has the formal amphitheatre-style seating in the front and then at the back is a green lawn. What’s unique about the auditorium is the wire-meash steel structure “covering” the theatre. And hanging down are speakers and just from the cello guy rehearsing you can hear it crisp and clear. And you know these Americans are sun-worshippers. So you will find them on deck chairs or lying down on blankets on the green lawn (saw pictures of theses).

It's called the Jay Pritzler Pavilion but I call it the Amphitecture +

When I saw this sign on the right (which are a many around the park), I started looking around for those famous banners we have on our campus. I couldn't find any. Could this be one of our solutions? Moveable, very personal (eye-level), readable (no dangering to moving vehicles and drivers), reusable.

If you are wondering why this picture is so blurry, its because the public like to touch it. The poor worker has to continuously wipe it. This is a reflection of me in a public art entitle the Cloud Gate at the Millenium Park. I think a drop of mercury is how I would describe it but with a "gate" at the base.

Along the way to the Navy Pier, saw a bunch of tourists practicing on the Segway. Maybe I will try one if I have the time. They market it as carbon-neutral tourism of course. Another carbon-neutral sightseeing is by bicycle. This is really big here. You can do it on your own or in guided tours. There’s even paddy cabs for familyies where four people can paddle at the same time, with space for another two smaller kids up front. I am not so sure people do it for the carbon. Just a new market I think. The hop-on-hop-off buses are doing roaring business but I am avoiding them. I get annoyed with all the yakity yak after 15 minutes. Boat rides and boat tourss are also big business, with one boat ride along the Chicago River called the Architectural Tour. Yes, Chicago has many significant architectural masterpieces dating back more than 100 years. Way back in the 1800s they were already constructing buildings more than 10 storeys high using steel frames.

Cycling tours has become big business.

And Navy Pier? Lot’s stuff there. But honestly, a tourist from Malaysia will probably complain –“nothing to do one”. Lot’s of people just enjoy walking or cycling or riding the boats with families and friends. Or have food. Of course, what is America without the beer. There’s the famous ferris wheel; largest one around or something. Modelled after the one at the first World Expo held in Chicago – ages ago. Remember reading about it during my doctoral studies. The World Expo was used to showcase modern living.

Can you guess what this is? It's called the Prius Solar Garden. Anyone?

Oh, yes food. Went to this place at the Pier plagiarising from the Forrest Gump movie. Since I had skipped dinner and breakfast I ordered salad and clam chowder and steamed mussels. Was I surprised when the food came. Huge. To my surprise I finished all except for the bread which I took back (the waitress offered a container which I declined). With a drink, that cost me about RM100. The exchange rate is terrible. Oh, the mussel was quite bland, even with the butter and some other dip. I thought it was not fresh enough.

And for dinner, we went to a Mediterranean restaurant. We, as in Harold (my host) and his wife and son, and Shih Chung from Taiwan. Guess what? We had mussels again but this was way better. And lots of other food, shared. And I had my first glass of gin and tonic – not bad.

Ah, not just dinner. We are networking.

Tomorrow, we have a pre-conference workshop to visit a couple of campuses to check out their green buildings. Harold and I agreed that the green building certification is a scam. Well, to be fair, we did not use the term “scam”, but you know what I mean. What’s more important is for universities to understand the motives behind green buildings. Will let you know what I think about the local examples after the tour.

BTW, I have been told to keep my presentation (Friday) strictly to seven minutes. So, you students reading this … take note.

You won't get to see this on your normal tourist package. While walking to the Navy Pier, I got into some deadends and discovered this elevator and stairs to get down to the street below. See what I see? The private spaces (balcony gardens) has merged into a sort of semi-public space. I love this.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Going West, Heading East

Finally found a spot near departure Gate 60 which has reasonable WIFI reception. Where? Land of fragrant harbour. Flight is 4.15 pm to LA which is going to be about 12 or 13 hours of sore bums. Then another 3 hours or so to Chicago. Why? In an effort to overcome climate change, I am burning up carbon. OK, don't jump. The organisers promised it will be a carbon neutral event. So, we have to tell them all about our travel mode to the conference so that they can offset it somehow (will let you know how).

This morning I was there at the Penang Airport bright and early. Ah, but there was drama fit for Hollywood. Even heard those scary stories about people booking their tickets online with their credit cards but refused boarding? Apparently, there is fine print on the e-ticket that says that the person travelling must be the person who's credit card is being used to pay for the ticket. So, some poor girl got stuck at the airport because her mom had booked it online with the mom's credit card. If that is the case you have to show proof it's not fraud or something.

My story is just as spell-binding. The organisers who invited me to the conference offered two options. One, I buy the ticket and then claim back the fare. Or get them to book, so no hassle with reimbursements. I chose the second option.

I them told what I wanted, they booked it, I said OK. They asked for my name as in the passport, seat preference, diet. Then came an email telling me I should go to the airline to get a physical ticket.

Hey, isn't everyone into e-ticket already? I asked around at the office. Should be OK. I called up the Penang Cathay Pacific Office (Boustead Bldg) .. no answer, 2 or 3 times. Called up their office at the airport, spoke to a man. He says, no problem, we use e-ticket. No need physical ticket.

Then on Saturday morning, when sending off my wife who was heading for Europe with my sister and sis-in-law, I brought the printout of the itinerary to the Cathay check-in counter to confirm. Guess what? Of course, no problem. e-ticket OK.

Fast forward to 6 am at Penang Airport this morning. Mr. Lee do you have the ticket? Huh, I said. I checked twice and you guys say e-ticket OK.

Well, apparently, the travel agent in Chicago screwed up. They originally booked my flight using Meng/Lik. After asking for my passport name, they send me confirmation of the change Lee/Likmeng.

But this morning I learned that there a "reservation/booking" record in the computer system. And then there is a "ticket" record in that same system. And they don't talk to each other. My reservation name was updated. But not my ticket name. So, they can't issue the ticket.

Who can change it? The original travel agent. So, does that mean I can't travel today. "I am sorry", says the Cathy people. I said, I am not coming back to the airport tomorrow. Either I travel today, or I am not traveling. What's my option? There's no way I can communicate with Chicago to get it changed on the spot.

Well, there's one option. I have to purchase a ticket on the spot. I asked them whether the organisers can get their money back from the ticket. They said no problem; maybe they have to pay administrative fee.

I gave the it about 5 seconds of thought and said, OK. I will buy the ticket. I will trust Harold to get me my money back.

The line is forming for the boarding to LA. A young girl beside me is very angry with his boyfriend. She keeps bugging the boy to call her before she boards (she was on skype or something) ... but she is furious and still no calls. So, where's the recession. And the H1N1 flu? Wow, the line is really long.

I better sign off now. Stay tune for more stories of my Journey to the East ... ahh, make that the West.

Hong Kong Airport

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Green ur Lung

Usually, when we say "green lung" we refer to the parks or forests in a city - they help the city folks to breathe by giving them fresh air and at the same time cleaning up the foul air that humans, cars and factories breathe out.

A group of pharmacy students got creative when instigated to do something about the foul air given out by smokers (cigarette smokers, that is). Universities are one of those places gazetted by law as "no smoking" zone. Yes, the whole campus. But guess what, even the people who are licensed by that same law to enforce no smoking are themselves smokers. Yah, like asking the burglar to watch your house while you sleep (but burglar has left USM). You can also see the Pak Guard blatantly smoking away while on duty, in front of everybody to see. Visitors to the campus are also notorious for breaking the no-smoking law on campus, and we know where they do it. Contractors' crew are another big culprit. Of course USM staff and students do it without a care in the world.

So what are the Green Lung activists going to do? Education and awareness first. Then they are going around campus to detect for foul air - toilets, under the stairs, meeting rooms, offices, canteens. And then they will publish the hotspots where people smoke. Yes, we are going to be watching.

Enforcement, you ask? Hhhm, I personally don't want students to do the enforcement work. The VC says, let's shame them first. I kinda agree, but I would not want to use the word "shame". Let's make them feel guilty. How about that? Not just the smokers but the people who are supposed to upholding the law.

And much more.

Instead of gory pictures like those on the cigarette packages, these students are more creative in their campaign poster. U get the picture? (p.s. sorry the background is supposed to be solid black but came out smoky when uploaded to the blog)
When they asked for t-shirts I initially said no. But they convinced me that it is a crucial tool in their campaign. Volunteers will wear this t-shirt for a specific day every week to get people's attention. Do you want to be a volunteer? Contact : Don't forget to visit them at their inaugural exhibition at the USM Convex next week (their booth is near the Sg Dua Gate at the Eureka Building carpark). I am told they have recruited 100 volunteers. First target 500!

BTW, the name "green lung" for this campaign is completely original. 100% authentic USM product. Will this be the next "White Coffin"?

Monday, 3 August 2009

Life without handphones

Kampus Sejahtera gets roped in for many things, many of which I have no resource to follow up - so, I say no.

This one, I think I can't squirm my way out. My wife told me yesterday that I used only about RM4-RM5 worth of calls on my mobile but pay RM30 per month for the service. "Happily" my children now get to enjoy my unused credits because "we are family". Should we be happy? Probably not, since it means my children will be getting more radiation from the handphones. Well, actually, they are not using more but we will be paying less because of the package. But that's not the point of this post. The point is : do you know enough about the hazards of handphone usage? And what should you or can you do about it?

Now, think, can you imagine not being about to get a good reception for your handphone while on campus. I can remember the good old days when these strange people will be walking aimlessly around the room, pointing their "remote-control" (handphone lah) in various directions trying to catch the signal. "Try near the window", someone will helpfully advise. Well, those days could be back soon on campus.

I can tell you that the decision has been made to eventually phase out the telco towers on campus. Is the decision final? Can you still influence and reverse that decision? Do you know enough to support or oppose the decision?

I have asked a few students, and almost all say its a stupid idea (to shutdown the telco towers). My three children (and I think wife) share similar sentiments. Others however think that if there are viable alternatives, like superfast WIFI and landlines, they can live without the handphones.

So, what's the problem with the handphones? Radiation coming directly from your handset when you are talking on the phone - right into your brain. Any proof? Well, I have asked my son to do some detective work (he's studying to be a telco engineer; maybe). Also, there's talk about lowering sperm count. If you have some concrete proof, send them to me.

In the meantime, we will see how we can help everyone better understand the risks. If you have a view, post a comment. Or send email to

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