Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Bon Voyage, Grand Paris

10:13 am, Aeroparte 1, CDG
(sitting at one of the three workstations marked WiFi at Gate 12B. Except I am not using their WiFi ‘cause its not free. Am using this because I can plug in and sit down too. I know, I know, I am being selfish.)

Finally, my legs gave up yesterday after one week of very long walks. I went back to the “economy room” (cheap hotel lah) at about past 7 pm, thinking I would wake up about 9 or 10 and go for dinner at the restaurant across the street. I woke up about past 11.30 pm, decided it wasn’t worth getting up just for dinner. Woke up about 4 or 5 in the morning. Decided not to have the breakfast at the hotel (didn’t like the not so friendly staff). Left the hotel at Gallieni just before 7.30 am, took three trains to get to terminal 1. Hey, a father and son (I think from the Middle East) even consulted me about which train gets to which terminal. I must look like a seasoned traveller already.

It’s quite confusing, the sign at train station when you arrive at the CDG (Charles de Gaulle) Airport. You have to take another shuttle train to terminal 1. When I finally got to the check-in hall about 10 minutes before 9 am, the counter wasn’t open but a long line was already forming and overflowing into the common corridor. Why can’t MAS just let people queue up in the roped area instead of spilling over and blocking the people traffic?

After check-in, wanted to have light breakfast. Checked-out the bar near the MAS counter but didn’t like the fact they were using disposal cups. So, went through immigration and just right after that was a bar using reusable cups. And pretty cheap too, by Euro dollars. An expresso and a pastry for only 3.60 Euro.

So, here I am, reflecting on the pass one week of travelling. Everything was really good. No unfortunate incidences. A couple of surprises in Paris.

Actually, I went to two Parises in the last week. Did you know that Bucharest is called “Little Paris”? They tried to copy the design, complete with a replica of Champs Elysees. In fact, the guy in power at that time (can’t remember who) wanted to be better than Paris so he had the boulevard just a few metres longer than the one in Paris. The Little Paris, of course can’t compare with the big brother. Romania was very impoverished under communism and economically it is still behind; millions of people have left for places like Spain for work. I was told that a graduate in Bucharest can earn about 700 euro a month but in smaller cities it would be about 400 euro. Little Paris is very polluted; full of dust and smells of petroleum from the crazy number of cars on the road; the cars are parked everywhere including the sidewalks and pedestrian walks of the boulevard. This is despite the very good system of trains and underground metro and buses. Romanians are having a big love affair with cars after decades of pent-up suppression from consumption. But I love Bucharest though. I love the staff at the Opera Hotel. Always friendly, especially at breakfast. I actually shook hands with them on my last morning to say goodbye.

(Am looking out the window at the departure area; the plane is parked there; and the MAS crew are just getting into the plane. Its probably going to be on time. My wife is concerned; she was stuck at Heathrow when the plane didn’t arrive and they put everybody in a hotel, took them back to the airport early in the morning; and then delayed it a few more hours)

Back to Bucharest. I tried the trains (metro and regional) and they are very good. One of the staff gave me a ride to Sinaia (and I took a train back; 132 km), a mountain resort, the day before I left. He even walked me to the famous Peles Castle, reputedly one of the most beautiful in Romania, built by the first emperor of Romania. Pity did not get to see the inside ‘cause it’s a guided tour of about one and half hours. Surely next time. That area is famous for sking and snowboarding. Again pity I didn’t have the time to go up in the cable car. Along the way, I had a chat with Dragos and learned that some people have tried to promote tourism but discovered that the infrastructure is very poor; the huge jams leading out of the city during weekends, not enough hotels, etc, have deterred the business. I thought, hhm, if that was China or even Malaysia, they would just go ahead; and close both ears to the complaints; hoping things will improve.

Ah, but I did get to enjoy my very first classical music performance. Well, probably not the first. I remember going to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra performance at USM DSTP. That one was horrible. Sound and the “attitude” of some of the musicians (chatting away during the performance; or generally not attentive). The performance at the Athenuam (??) was moving; crystal clear sounds. I was rather distracted by the pianist (a Japanese lady); her body language was too distracting. So I closed my eyes and let the music moved me. The inside of the circular hall was splendid. The audience were however a little idiotic. OK, maybe it’s the management’s fault. They let people walk in and out during a performance! And when we tried to get tickets, they said there was only three tickets left. Yes, you guessed it. There were many empty seats. Can’t imagine people paying 50 lei (that’s about RM60) and not showing up.

Will I go back to Bucharest? Well, they have invited me back (verbally) so if we can agree on what I can contribute, I will definitely go back. I think they have a big challenge and they need some help. But sometimes, we also need to be aware of the politics. I don’t want to seem to be muscling in or disrupting vested interests. So, will see. I will probably learn more too.

Now, Grand Paris. And I am not making up the term. I was at the Eiffel Tower, looked at the tourist map and discovered I was just opposite the Architecture Museum. Why not? I could learn a thing or two. So, I paid 8 or 9 euros and started exploring. Level 1 was a lot of cast of Roman buildings and architectural details of old buildings. Yah, nice but not impressive. Then I bummed into an exposition of the current effort at visualising Paris in the future – the Grand Paris. It’s something like our Structure Plan exhibition back home. Except this was really elaborate with a lot of technology thrown in and very nice graphic designs. There’s even a booth with soft cushions on the floor where you can lie down and watch the presentation. I did that too. Guess what happened. I fell asleep. Damn, I was really worn out. Interestingly, just like plan exhibitions back home, not many “public” was there; mainly students from colleges (part of their studies, I am guessing). Tried to buy a copy of their plan but it was all in French.

So, what is Grand Paris. From my brief and lightning visit, very interesting. Post-Kyoto came out strong in the presentations. How to reduce carbon footprint with compact city design (yes, they use that term); they actually want to shrink the size of Paris. I saw images of taller buildings encircling parks (with existing skyline maintained; some increase one storey). And they imagine the entire roofscape covered with solar panels (I saw the image and I didn’t like it). I am sure if you search the web you will find some stuff on Grand Paris; but probably in French.

Ah, talking about the French and their French. No, the French are not snobbish (except for the ones I encountered at the hotel reception). The waiters are especially tuned in to tourists. Those I met for my meals are very nice and will speak to you in English. Hey, its their bread and butter.

And my surprises? Well, first off, Paris is nice. And I will come back again. I have already promised my wife. Paris should be a World Heritage City, way before George Town or Malacca.

My niece, PJ, had recommended (based on a friend’s recommendation) to me to watch Moulin Rouge, even though it is pricy. Some of you may have watched Moulin Rouge the movie. I did, and I think I probably fell asleep. Well the movie didn’t impress me. Now I know why. The movie about Moulin Rouge is all about the intrigue behind the famous Parisian cabaret. I was walking along Champs Elysee on the first day (all the way from the Louvre; hey that’s a very long walk) and saw the Lido theatre. So, I thought, same thing. I managed to get the cheapest ticket which cost 60 Euro. You sit at the bar and get two free drinks. A dinner included will cost between 120 to 180 euro. Multiply that with you partner, that’s about 1,000 ringgit or more for a night at the theatre.

So, the show started, very impressive costume, a little glitzy. Looked promising. Vocals, not very impressive though; kinda subdued. And then I thought I was seeing things. Hey, some of those dancers are bare breasted! Well, they all have hardly in clothes on in the first place(except the lead actress) but really, topless? Then it dawned on me. This must be the expensive “strip tease”. Well, they don’t do a strip tease. You know what I mean. So, all throughout the more than one and half hours of show, these bare-breasted women (the men don’t count, I think) came on and off, with other “fully clothed” dancers. Now I get it. That’s why Moulin Rouge the movie didn’t get to me. It missed out on the main intrigue. But honestly, the stage sets were very impressive. I wondered how they manage to move them around so effortlessly. And I think this was one of the intrigues in the movie. In between, there was some “acts” by men. No, no, not the acts you must be thinking about. There was a guy with a string and throwing spinning “tops” (not sure what to call it); he was impressive and got more cheers than the dancing girls. A couple of muscular men also did some impressive stunts with their muscles (saw it on TV once). All in, I thought the dances, dancers and vocals were very subdued (read as not exhiliratingly impressive). Expected much more energy. It was sort of like they were conserving energy for the next performance at 11.30 pm.

OK, so that’s the first surprise. The next day, after Eiffel Tower and the Architectural Museum, I took the metro to Pillage. As usual, I just wonder around. Saw a street with lots of tourist souvenir shops and lots of tourist. Looked at the map. Oh, yah, there’s a Cathedral nearby. Looked up at the hill and said, “no more climbing”. There’s a furnicular train, but maybe next time. As I wondered back to the main street, I started seeing whole rows of shops selling erotica stuff. OK, if you must know, “Sex Shops”, to be precise; and peep shows, table dancing, strip tease. No, this is not my first encounter with a “red light” district (hey, I am reasonably cosmopolitan). What really clicked was when I bummed into the real and original Moulin Rouge theatre. Right smack there in Pillage. Now I see. This must be like trade specialisation. And the caberet is the middle- or upper-class kick in the sex trade.

(It’s 11.32 am. The plane is supposed to take off at 12 noon. No way they can do that now. Seems there’s a huge jam at the immigration counter. Going to stop and continue on the plane. Am wide awake after the good night’s sleep and the shot of expresso.)

2.12 pm, on the plane, just finished lunch. Watching “Fast and Furious”, again. Multi-tasking. The movies are all the same, and getting tedious. Lunch was briyani chicken rice. It wasn’t bad but it comes in those sealed plastic micro-waveable type containers. After eating I turned over the container and noted PET; not so bad but still not meant for heating up food. Maybe I should add MAS to the list of “no fly” airline.

I was right. Departure was about half hour late but we will still reach KLIA ahead of schedule.

The other major highlight of my day yesterday was Eiffel Tower. Advised by my niece, I went early. But even before 10 am, there was already some queue. Headed for the entrance with the shortest queue. Guess what? Exactly what I wanted. The entrance for climbers. Paid the 4.50 euro and started climbing, expecting to climb a really long time. Got to Level 1, proceeded to Level 2. No sweat. No even panting. If you think its easy, Level 1 is like climbing 21 storeys and Level 2 is 42 storeys (668 steps). When I got to Level 2, I tried looking for the stairs to the top. Discovered that you can’t climb all the way (makes sense I think, since it becomes very narrow and would have been a safety risk). Debated whether to pay the 5 euro for the lift ride up. Usually, I get disappointed at the towers because you can’t see far because of weather. I decided they need my 5 euro more than I do. They have to paint the tower every seven years (they are doing it right now) and need some 60 tonnes of paint and lots of man-hours. The lifts are super fast. They have been upgraded several times to keep up with the technology. They have really good posters everywhere with interesting tidbits about Eiffel tower and one of them claims “sustainable development”. That attracted my attention. It claims that Gustave Eiffel must have unconsciously thought about sustainable development when he and his team designed the hydraulic lift system. Even though it has now been upgraded with the latest technology, much of the old system has been retained. Well, I don’t know much about lifts and mechanical engineering so I will leave it to the engineers to clarify this one day.

When Eiffel tower was being built there was some protest because that area was used by Parisiens for exercise. Now it has become the pride of France. One think that strikes me is that some of these old projects were conceived way ahead of the technology of their time. In this case, the design team had to overcome various hurdles, including designing a lift system. Reminded me of the architects of Chicago when they started building highrises.

Was it worth it, especially with the long queue for the lift from the level 2 to the top? YES, yes, yes. If you come to Paris, you must go to the top of Eiffel Tower. When you look down, you will appreciate the grand designs – the magnificent boulevards, the street patterns, the consistent roofscape, yet not monotonous; the old with the new. Remember that Le Corbusier was instrumental in pushing for monument skyscrapers; and it was his group of architects who advocated massive highways to embrace automobiles. Lucky for us, he failed to convert Paris to his vision. Paris is still very people and pedestrain friendly. And if you look down many streets, the perspective view is just amazing. The height of buildings are maintained; the fa├žade of buildings are complementary though from different periods.

Finally, a word about the famous Louvre Museum, the one with the famous glass pyramid by I.M. Pei. Me? I am not impressed. The collection of paintings seemed unreal – I think many seemed to have been restored and looked too new to be old paintings. There’s only one reason to visit Louvre. Monna Leesa (ok, Mona Lisa to most of us, and Monna Lisa to the French). Even then, they keep you at a distance, enclosed with “glass” and protected by 6 or 7 secret service agents on site. You can’t get to see all the wrinkles on that grand old lady. Hey, I think they should send it back to the Italians. In case you are wondering, Leonardo da Vinci painted Mona Lisa.

It’s been a long post. Time to stop. Otherwise you’ll start giving me an F grade for long-windedness.

Stopped writing at 2.46 pm, Paris time; 10,000 m above the sea, traveling at 969 km/h, somewhere above Ukraine, another 9 hours to destination. And “Fast and Furious” is getting boring.

[uploaded at KLIA]

Friday, 25 September 2009

Adrenalin rush

Over lunch, Costel asked me whether I was a little tense, waiting for my presentation at 2 pm. I have done it a "thousand" times (that's is an exaggeration of course) but each time I have to go up on stage (figuratively speaking), I can definitely feel a little "tense". I said, "that is good because it helps to keep you on your toes". The adrenalin keeps you alert and gives you an energy boost to put on a show. Over dinner, Campbell, the Scot was speaking Spanish and I discovered he speaks 4 languages. I said "and you have not made a professional career out of it?". He said yes, he did, a long time ago. He was a professional simultaneous translator. I asked him if he has a "5 second" delay in translating what is being said by the speaker. He said no, it's word for word and instantaneous. Doesn't the sentence get all jumbled up? How do you know what word comes next? Well, it just comes out naturally, said Campbell. It's like a well-horned skill that you do it instinctively. It's the same thing with presentation skills. You horn it as you do more presentations. Generally you get better at it. You want to get better at it. Otherwise it just gets boring. Yes, sometimes despite your best thought-out flow and well-laid out slides, you could bomb out and you finish your speech feeling not quite accomplished.

The UNESCO-CEPES Building where the workshop is being held

Beautiful interior with elaborate wood craving motifs on the ceiling. That's Campbell in the foreground working as rappoteur, not just typing in everything being said. I think he processes, synthesise and interprets as he writes. This is a skill very much in demand from countries where the locals are "not so good with the written English"

Well, yesterday was one of my better (perhaps best?) performance, judging by the reactions from the fellow speakers. They liked the style (they didn't fall asleep). They felt engaged. And most important of all, they like the message (i.e. the content of the speech). You can be a damn good speaker but these are discerning audience. They want to see "your stuff".

What did I come all the way here for? To deliver a speech on "The Futures of Higher Education : USM's preferred pathway as Malaysia's APEX University". I had 45 minutes, which is a long time to hold people's attention. I did it with 5 minutes to spare. The presentation traced our journey from 2000 as we went through various stages of developing and implementing various initiatives leading us to where we are today. The main focus was on scenario planning and how our visioning led us to the transformation plan for the APEX U programme.

I think what they appreciated most was two things. One, the continuity of the various efforts leading to the APEX U transformation plan. And two, that we have created a model or package which is distinctly our own. We did not merely say that we want to become World Class by aiming to be say, top 50 on the World University Ranking. In particular, they were very much attracted to the idea of integrating sustainability into the transformation plan. During the presentation, I looked at the speaker from Germany and said that the APEX U programme was modelled after the German system and that an expert from Germany was one of the evaluators/reviewer of the bids in Malaysia. After my presentation, some one else spoke about Manchester U's strategic plan, which essentially says that they want to eventually become top 40 on the rankings. Of course, with due respect to Man U, the speaker was not involved in the development of the plan but one member of the audience said it lacked imagination (comparing it with USM). Later, the German speaker pointed out to another speaker that "sustainability" was missing from the work being done by that European Union supported research organisation working on issues of higher education and suggested that it should be taken as a new project. That suggestion was accepted. But I think the most glowing tribute to USM's effort was when the same German speaker said that maybe in 5 or 10 years, the Germans will have to visit USM and learn from us. Wow, what an adrenalin rush. So, Dear Vice-Chancellor of USM, I have done the selling, now we got to deliver.

So, why is Romania interested in what USM is doing? The short version is that they are undertaking a foresight programme to help chart they pathway for higher education. They seem very interested in USM's approach and wants to talk some more about how we (I?) can be involved with some of the workshops. So, I am predicting that I may come this way again; maybe. But the Romanians are very ambitious. It's a three year project to revamp the whole higher education of the country.

Here's some pics.

The people behind the scenes - the professionals who coordinates logistics.


Philine, Ariel and Ozcan - new collaborators?

It's a small group meeting - about 20 or so participants. This workshop is mainly to lay the groundwork.
What's a workshop without food and drinks? With Radu, deputy director of the project. That thing is 50% alcohol; way too strong for me. You are supposed to drink in a single shot!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Aging gracefully

Bucuresti (or to most of us, Bucharest) is a Medieval city with history dating back to the 15th Century when Prince Vlad Tepes established his court here. Who's Tepes? He was reportedly the inspiration for the stories of Count Dracula. I don't think most of the buildings here date back that long. But man, if you want to see old gorgeous buildings, you will get lots of them in Bucharest. Many are still elegant and well maintained, especially the public buildings such as museums (there are 37 museums, 22 theatres and 18 art galleries). I wanted to visit at least 2 or 3 museums yesterday. But in the end I visited none.  On the first day after checking in and resting a little (after being "on the road" for 24 hours), I hit the streets walking through a park just down the road from the hotel. Yes, Bucharest is blessed with a series of very lovely parks. On that walk I saw this elderly couple taking life in small strides. The lady uses a walking contraption (what's it called?), one step at a time, very very slowly. And the man patiently waits for her to take each step, pausing to "keep up" with her. Then yesterday at the Herestrau Park, I saw a healthier old couple, walking hand-in-hand. It's a blessing to see old people on the streets in the city. What with half the marriages in U.S. ending in divorce. Everywhere else is catching up. And if they don't get separated prematurely, many don't live to see old age.

But is the city itself aging gracefully? I walked the whole day yesterday, meandering through the streets, letting the unexpected sights draw me in. The city feels very safe. But it is obvious that many buildings have become abandoned. People don't live in them anymore. Some have moved to more modern apartments, others seemed resigned to the decay of their homes. But I also see signs of rehabilitation as living quarters; only just a few. So guess what most of the restored buildings end up as? Beautifully restored as restaurants and cafes! Is there no better used for heritage buildings?

Ah, I got to run. Will continue this conversation later. In the meantime, I thought you would enjoy these photos. They don't reflect what is being down with heritage buildings. They are just reminders that they are many idiots out there.

Will show the really beautiful stuff later. Ciao. Gotta go justify my trip here.

p.s. Of course George Town has got it's share of idiots too. (hhm, can I be sued for violating professional ethics? Calling other professionals "names"?)

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Blood-sucking trip

22 Sept , 7:46 am at Terminal F, Gay Paree

Arrived from KLIA at 6.30 am, 10 minutes ahead of time, even though we were delayed about 10 minutes for take off due to traffic congestion. In KLIA? I got a few hours to kill (departure at 10:24 am). Am word-processing this journal. When are they going to provide free WiFi at all airports. WiFi is like toilets; they are everywhere in this airport. Actually, I like Terminal F. Huge hangar-like structure, no columns. Pity the metal screens on top of the glass roof are not solar panels. Paris airport is huge and old. When arriving, as usual there are the border patrol heavily armed, mascular, intimidating. I gave the guy my passport. He looked at it and passed it immediately to the guy standing next to him. He flipped through every page, meanwhile peeking up at my face. Could figure out what the first guy was suspicious about. Asked the first guy in French. Apparently nothing. So, welcome to gay Paree.

It was my birthday yesterday so my two girls made me a special B-day card; gave it to me at the Penang Airport. They even wrote "Thanks for Everything" and two quotes on the card : “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me” (Jim Valvano) and “Any man can be a Father but it takes someone special to a Dad” (Anne Geddes). I was really touched. I am proud of you girls too. And Brian? He sent me a text from KL “Hey, Dad, suddenly remembered. Happy Birthday!”.

I remember writing on my website (in the award-winning competition!!) that I did not know my father at all. When I was born, he was already 57 years old. My siblings tells me that he was a good father to them. But I never got to know him. So I resolved to be a “better father” to my kids. Yah, I know, I got angry with them sometimes when they were “out of line”. Wish I could turn back the clock. Still, they all turned out superb. No parent could have asked for more from three children who turned out matured, self-assured, determined to succeed, level-headed, civil, polite, respectful, sincere and super readers.

Ah, Paris. The people are reputed to be snobs, as far as the language goes. Speak to them in Malay, I was advised. Huh? Well, speak to them in English and could be bother with you. Really? Well, not at the airport. Efficient and friendly, up to now. Oooo, the soft morning sun is shining throught the glass walls and bathing the inside of the departure lounge in lovely brillliance.

Where am I going? The Land of the blood-sucking vampires.  Bucharest, Romania to be exact. Why? To be what the organisers refer to as an “expert” (that’s what it says in the contract) for a foresight conference on higher education in Romania. I am presenting USM’s experience in scenario planning leading to our APEX University transformation plan. As with the Chicago trip, I did not ask for it, nor planned for it. Chicago came out of the blue because of networking. And when I was in Chicago, I learned that my name had been suggested (with one other) for the Bucharest trip. Honest, I did not say a single thing about wanting to go to Bucharest but my silence was taken to mean that I was interested. I guess some people are just too shy to put up their hand(s)? Not that I am complaining. Not too much.

Its 8.20 am. I love the sun in my face. Going to stop this entry and go buy a coffee and read “Economicology” by Peter M Wege. Yes, the same guy who paid for my trip to Chicago. So far, I like what I read. Except “economicology” is just too much a mouthful.

A moment of weakness. No more coffee in disposal cups on this trip. The trouble is the airport security are pain in the neck when you bring in bottles or tumblers even if empty. In KLIA the security said empty bottle OK. In Paris, it was no-no. Oh, the cappucino cost me 5.20 Euro; that's about 25 Ringgit for that medium size cup.

Lunch tray from Air France. I have already decided to boycott Cathay Pacific for the earlier fiasco. Now, I have to add Air France to the list. Soon, I will have not airline to fly with. Three cheers for carbon neutrality.

Am uploading via free hotel WiFi at Bucharest hotel. More stories to come. Time now only 8.50 pm in Bucurest but almost 2 am in Penang. And my eyes tells me its time to sleep. Apologies to the nice people in Romania for the title of this blog.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Desperate for Love

Selamat Hari Raya. Or for those from around the World, today is Eid Fitri, a celebration by Mulsims after one month of fasting.

Am in my garden bench, soft evening sun, light breeze, admiring my 6 or 7 hours of trimming, digging, transplanting, moving huge pots around. And enjoying the looong weekend. And waiting to go out for dinner with the in-laws from Penang.

Before you start getting ideas, it's my papaya tree which is desperate for love.

 I hope you can see the very long stem sticking all the way out from the trunk with big bunches of flowers at the ends. This is the papaya tree at the back which has been desperately trying to get imprenated. This is a wonder of nature. I decided to chop it down this morning to create for space and less competition for the mango and naka trees next to it. JANTAN!

This one found lots of love. It's right next to my compost bins. You can see the flowers are sprouting just at the trunk.

And this is MJ.

Cute isn't he? He was found abandoned with 3 siblings on one of the super highways in KL. My daughter rescued him to be her pet.  Brought him to Butterworth for the week-long special break. He's only 4 months old. When you adopt a pet from the SPCA, they make you pay a RM100 deposit for the castration. According to Vivian, the vet will cut a tiny hole and squeeze the testicles out (oow). The hole is so small they don't even bother to stitch the cut.

We used to have a black dog named Johnny when I was a kid. He died and I remember we dug a hole in the backlane (which wasn't tarred) and buried him there. Then one time, some expatriates in Johor were leaving home (this was in the 1970s) and needed new owners for their cat. Their servant who happened to be our cousin, recommended us to the owners. So the owners bought big bags of cat food and gave us the cat. After a while, the cat ran away. I am not sure. I think it had something to do with the food we gave the cat after the bags of food ran out. Of course the old owners were distressed.

The last time we had pets was when my sis-in-law bought a pair of hamsters for Vivian's birthday. Hamster don't live long. I remember my son shed tears when they died. We gave them a burial in our garden (old house). Vivian has for a long time bugged us about getting a dog. When she aced her form five exams, I said she could have anything. Except a dog. Ah, taking care of pets is a big responsibility. Especially if you have to go outstation.

But Vivian is an adult now, so she can do what she wants. And she's training to be a Vet. So, what better training than taking care of your own pet?

And we are learning the pleasures and benefits of having a pet. Though still holding back a little. No jumping on the table. No sitting on the sofa. No sleeping on the bed. But he's really, really a pleasure. Cats are really very fussy. They don't poo just anywhere. On the car trip back from KL, he didn't poo at all but once in our house, Vivian put him on the litter box and he did his business. Cats are not like dogs. You can't train they to roll over and stuff. Vivian trained him to "sit", when offering treats (made from real duck!). Over the last two days, I trained me to come to me. "Come here MJ", snapping my finger and thumb (OK, I'm not very good at snapping my thumb). He will now come and lie down near me, expecting to be tickled under the chin and some gentle rub on the body. He loves my garden. Smelling the leaves, biting the grass, prancing and pouncing, as though his wild instincts are coming forth. Yesterday he caught a live dragonfly, played with it and ate it.

No, he's not getting leftovers. One reason is that the fur will not be so nice and fluffy. And it would be difficult for Vivian 'cos she doesn't cook when she's at the varsity. Ah, but he got a taste of my double-boiled abalone and herbs chicken. He absolutely loved. My wife gave him some dried fish (like ikan bilis) and he loved it too.

Cat love the high perch. The first night, we gave him a basket with a towel to sleep. The next morning, we found him high up on top of our old (broken) microwave oven (which is on top of the washing machine). So, that has become his sleeping place. He likes window sills. I guess it's the wild cat instinct to to take a high position to watch their "dinners".

Remember your parents might have scolded you and tell you to quickly wash your hands when you touch a cat? Especially a stray one? Well, I learned from Vivian that it is not all myth. Stray cats do carry a lot of diseases because of the places they visit. And pregnant women should avoid handling cat poo. There's some kind of bacteria in the poo which is a health hazard for the expecting mum. (Correction : Vivian says its not bacteria but parasites. You know like worms? I remember a long time ago when parents had to de-worm the kids. And when the kids next go to the toilet, there will be worms in the shit. Worms of course suck your blood; or more precisely, they suck the nutrients in your digestive system and the person turn all green; for lack of nutrients. Ok, I'm exaggerating. To de-worm the cat, you have to give the correct amount of tablet every month, based on the weight of the cat.)

And in case you are not convinced yet to have a pet, Vivian says the evidence shows that pets help to lower blood pressure. Yah, that's why I am soooo calm these few days. MJ, come here!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

My best side

When daughter happened to glanced at my notebook, she said "Obama". Yah, got potential as Obama look-alike. Except I will need a lot of charcoal for make-up.

The organisers of the ACUPCC in Chicago (Second Nature) graciously made available these photos of me at the rostrum. Taken by a professional photographer. I think these are some of the best pictures ever taken of me. Incredible resolution. Sharp. Animated. Pensive. I should get them printed for posterity.
from left : Shih-Cheng, Kiran, Harold, Andrew & Lik Meng on the International Panel