Liu San Jie in JB


Wang Yee Jia [Back Row Right] as Liu San Jie,
singing her eloquent responses to the rhymes
presented by the landlord's three hired singers 
For two nights, the audience at the Liu San Jie musical show presented at the Southern University College was transported back to the Tang dynasty as they were mesmerised by live performances of the classic legend and music of the Zhuang people in China.  Since it was created in 1960, this show has been performed more than 2000 times in China and abroad and made into a movie in 1961.  In 2006, the Liu San Jie show was recognized as a National Cultural Heritage in China. 

As the movie version of the musical helped to spread the popularity of Liu San Jie to Chinese-speaking communities outside of China, in 2003 movie director Zhang Yimou created “The Impressions of Liu San Jie”, an outdoor live show which has become the most lucrative cultural income for the city of Guilin.  Presented live every night, beside the Li River to a backdrop of mountains, the one hour show with more than 600 actors, is a popular tourist attraction in this region.

A section of the appreciative audience at the show
The stage presentation of Liu San Jie in Johor Baru was the result of a partnership among the Malaysia-China Arts & Cultural Association, Southern University College and the generous sponsorship of the Country Garden Group, one of China’s leading integrated property developers.  A cast of 28 artistes were hosted by the Country Garden Group while all the proceeds from the charity shows went towards the building fund and international education fund in Southern University College.

Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Malaysia, Chai Xi, who was among the audience for the first show in Johor Baru, praised the Country Garden Group for their contribution to the community and encouraged other Chinese investors in Malaysia to emulate their example to do something for the community as they do business here.  At the end of the second show, Datuk Tan Liang Soon, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors, Southern University College, announced that the proceeds from the two shows combined with other contributions totaled in the sum of RM350,000.

The landlord's three hired singers tried to outwit Liu San Jie
with their poems but they failed miserably!
“The Country Garden Group is the first Chinese company to support local arts and culture in Johor Baru,” said Tan Chai Puan, Head of the Arts & Cultural Development Department of Southern University College who is also Advisor to the Malaysia-China Arts & Cultural Association. 


This Group recently had the sales launch of their flagship project of prestigious serviced apartments and condominiums at Country Garden @ Danga Bay in Iskandar Malaysia.


Wang Yee Jia [Right] was welcomed to JB by
Tan Chai Puan [Left]
When she was aged 18, Wang Yee Jia, the lead singer who plays the role of Liu San Jie, was selected from more than a thousand candidates who auditioned to be one of the lead singers for “The Impressions of Liu San Jie.”  After performing successfully in the outdoor show for a few years, she returned to the stage version of Liu San Jie.  It was the first time, Liu San Jie was presented in Johor Baru but for Wang, the two nights were the 80th and 81st show in her career!

In China, the Zhuang people believe that the legendary Liu San Jie or “Third Sister in the Liu family” was not mythical but truly existed and her birthplace was Yizhou town in Guangxi province.  She was a farmer’s daughter named Liu Shanhua but as she was the third child in her family, she was nicknamed, “Liu (family surname) San (third) Jie (sister).”  She was gifted in reciting traditional poems from a very young age and when she was inspired by beautiful scenery she had the talent to create and sing folk songs!

Colourful costumes add to the pleasure of
watching the performances of the matchmaker [Left]
and the greedy landlord [Right] who wanted to take
Liu San Jie as his concubine

The Zhuang people is one of the 56 ethnic groups in China, second only to the Han people who account for more than 91 percent of the nation’s population.  The legend of Liu San Jie was originally an oral tradition and was later found in romance, drama scripts and county annals in Guangxi. 

However, studies showed that the legend was not exclusively of the Zhuang people but similar stories can be found among other ethnic groups like the Miao, Yao, Buyi, Mulao and Han in Guangdong, Hunan, Yuannan and Guizhou provinces. 


The cast of Liu San Jie in the finale

There are various versions of the legend but the storyline presented in Johor Baru featured Liu San Jie as a talented folk singer with exquisite vocals who beat three hired singers with her witty and eloquent responses in antiphonal singing to avoid becoming a concubine to a greedy landlord.  It was typical of ethnic people of South China, particularly in the Guangxi province, to practice antiphonal singing, an ancient art form quite similar to our dondang sayang type of pantun, where two or more singers talk to each other in poetic songs to challenge and out-wit the other.  Another interesting scene depicted the Zhuang custom in courtship where Liu San Jie showed interest in her suitor by giving him an embroidered ball!

As the cast gave their final bow, the audience could not help but rushed forward to capture photo mementoes!

“The way Liu San Jie opposed the landlord’s unfairness by using arts and culture is an inspiration to us because very often things can be worked out through non-violent methods,” said Y. C. Yap, Vice-President of the Malaysia-China Arts & Cultural Association, who was very pleased with the strong support and success in the staging of the shows in Johor Baru.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 29 July 2013

Go Indian at Grand Gem

The Grand Gem serves a menu of authentic Indian cuisine
 
If you are a connoisseur of classical Indian cuisine, then make your way to the Grand Gem where the menu, like its décor, captures the essence of India in the 21st century.  With chefs hand-picked from Delhi, Orissa and Tamil Nadu, they have created a menu of recipes that are handed down through generations in their culinary districts.  A glance at the menu of North and South Indian specialties hints at how the cuisine in the Grand Gem is inspired by India’s grand culinary traditions so that guests may have an authentic Indian dining experience in Johor Baru.

 
Entrance to The Grand Gem at the lobby of
the Grand Bluewave Hotel, Johor Baru
 
The first thing you notice as you step into the Grand Gem is comfortable spaciousness and a tastefully designed ambience that’s reminiscent of fine dine restaurants in India.  The décor is enhanced by traditional Indian ornaments and their well-researched menu presents diners with some of the most intricate and vivid flavours of India.  
 
While most of the dishes are listed with traditional names, there are brief but helpful descriptions in English and if you need more info, their knowledgeable staff are more than ready to recommend the restaurant’s signature dishes. 

Sizzling hot Tandoori Sizzling Platter
While waiting for your meal to be served, you can whet your appetite with nibbling from the Tandoori Sizzling Platter.   Four varieties of marinated and moist meats are served sizzling on a hotplate, resting on a bed of naan to keep the meats from being over-cooked.  They come in 2 order sizes, Small and Big, loaded with tasty tender chunks of seekh kebab or minced lamb, fish tikka, tandoori chicken and murgh badami – tender chicken breasts marinated in almond paste, spices and yogurt and roasted in the tandoor oven.

 
North and South Indian specialties are prepared by their
Indian chefs who hail from Delhi, Orissa and Tamil Nadu
 
If you are a rice person, there is a choice of Briyani rice to savour and these long grains of fragrant Basmathi rice tastes good even on its own.  And if you prefer breads, pick from a variety of butter, cheese or plain naan and paratha choices.  Rice and breads can be enjoyed with signature dishes like spicy Mutton Rogan Josh, Bhindi Pitley and Chicken Tikka Masala.  

While the menu has many familiar Indian favourites, give the Bhindi Pitley a try to discover how tasty the humble okra can be when its sautéed with cashew nuts and onions.  Another interesting flavour is found in Meen Moilee or Fish Moilee, fish curry cooked in coconut milk.  Priced at just RM26.90, the Prawns Sizzling Platter is another signature dish with plump whole prawns sizzling in rich, creamy gravy of coconut milk and spices that’s sure to please fans of prawns!
 
Hot and spicy Nandu Rasam is a must for soup lovers!
The meal is not complete until you tasted the Grand Gem’s Nandu Rasam, a spicy, rich crab broth which is a must-try, especially for soup lovers.  Even if you are wary of the spicy bite, take it slow at the start and you may be surprised at how quickly you can slurp away the soup!  As you end sweetly with a choice of lip-smacking Indian sweets like Carrot Halwa, Gulab Jamun, Kesari or Kulfi, Indian ice-cream, you will agree that your experience at the Grand Gem is like a culinary journey into another realm where aromas, colours and flavours come alive!

Dine in gracious ambience furnished with elegant modern
fittings or enjoy a romantic meal seated on an
intricately carved, hand-painted swing!
The Grand Gem is part of the Gems Group of restaurants that has established a reputation for its unique concept of presenting an array of cuisines from all parts of India and set new standards for Indian fine dining in Malaysia.  While the Grand Gem aims to give guests a memorable Indian fine dining experience, the best thing is they are accessible, affordable and most importantly, diners derive great pleasure here.  Very often the experience is so comfortable that diners may be tempted to linger and enjoy a more leisurely meal!

Open since May 2013, the Grand Gem is located at the lobby level of the Grand Bluewave Hotel, Johor Baru, situated along Jalan Bukit Meldrum.  Open daily from 11.30am to 11pm.  For reservations and catering enquiries, Tel: 607 – 221 0717.  No pork products or lard is used.  For more info, visit website: www.gemsgroup.com.my

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 26 July 2013

Science Centre Edutainment

A family snow-tubing down the
slope in Snow City
“Winter jacket and boots are provided…Wearing of long pants is essential to keep warm in the -10 temperature…” I read the media brief with an involuntary shiver and make a mental note to also wear thick socks and bring my scarf along.  I think Snow City at the Singapore Science Centre is indeed close enough for some cool fun instead of travelling half-way round the world to escape our tropical heat.  The Singapore Science Centre has been presenting unique and relevant exhibitions to put the fun in learning about science and technology since 1997 and Snow City is a fitting end to my exciting edutainment itinerary there.

Even though I’m not a great fan of creepy crawlies, I’m still looking forward to a “Honey I shrunk the kids” experience and walk among super-sized plants, flowers and insects in their latest Megabugs Return exhibit.  Since the successful debut of Megabugs in 1994, the return of Singapore’s largest and updated exhibition of insects aims to help a new generation of people to understand and appreciate these tiny creatures.  At the thought of seeing live specimens I suppress another shiver and firmly decide that wearing long pants and thick socks is certainly comforting!

An iZ Hero interactive experience in the world’s first interactive exhibition that provides fun and interactive game elements and animated characters to empower children to confidently deal with cyber risks also promises to be interesting.  This exhibit guides children aged between 6 and 13 and their parents in cyber security awareness and safe and responsible online behaviour.  Armed with a Gallery Map, I follow the signs and the excited chatter of students and family groups to start my own edutainment discovery trail in the Singapore Science Centre.

Freezing Fun

A short walk down a covered corridor takes me into Snow City, South East Asia’s only permanent indoor snow chamber, next to the Science Centre.  The excitement is infectious as I join a throng of visitors who are pulling on fleecy coats and padded gloves.  I’m glad for my thick socks as I fit my feet into winter boots and clomp my way through a chilled room and let the freezing temperatures in the Ice Gallery hit me.

Peggy with Mohd Saiful Mohd Sahak, freezing in the Ice Gallery
My eyes are riveted to a long queue of visitors on one side of the slope with their arms clutching rubber tubes, waiting for their turn to snow-tube down the 60-meter long snow slope.  On the other side, there is a charming Candy House for kids but the excitement is clearly centered on the slope.  Thrill-seeking visitors are snow-tubing down individually or locked in groups, in a tremendous rush accompanied by earsplitting screams – and they promptly get up to join the queue again for their next exciting ride down!

Snow City is a popular destination to experience cool respite in sub-zero temperatures and the joys of snow.  I watch visitors bundled up in thick coats, boots and gloves, frolic in snow drifts and the kids throwing snowballs at each other.  My face starts to freeze as I catch snowflakes floating down in tropical Singapore’s Winter Wonderland and when I speak my breath comes out in tiny puffs!

Megabugs Return!

Walking among the megabugs in the exhibit

I walk through an entrance designed with black Giant Forest Ants crawling across an ant hill and I pause as my eyes quickly adjust to the dim lighting in a tunnel.  The clever use of shifting lights create an impression of a spinning tunnel that will shrink visitors as they step into the exhibition space modeled after a larger than life backyard.  Bathed in an eerie light and surrounded by giant animatronic insects set among towering blades of grass, it certainly gives me the feeling that I’ve truly shrunk!



 
Brave boy having an experience with a Hissing Cockroach!
I must admit that this is the first time I’m standing so close to creepy crawlies without feeling squeamish.  That’s probably because I’m also marveling at the science behind the construction of the 14 specially built gigantic creatures that will move at regular intervals.  Next to each exhibit of cockroach, centipede, grasshopper, praying mantis, dragonfly and mosquito, large light boxes display essential “Did you know” information like its features, habitat, diet, lifespan, distribution as well as predators and threats. 

If I seem rather brave among the mega size creatures, I don’t particularly feel the same when I see the live specimens.  Hidden among leafy fronds inside a glass showcase, are the cleverly camouflaged stick insects and it takes me a while to identify them.  When I glance at the next glass showcase, I get a sudden flashback to the 1996 musical comedy, “Joe’s Apartment” because it is filled with a colony of Hissing Cockroaches!

Cyber Health

Walk through this capsule to Midnunvora for iZ Hero fun
I leave the Megabugs to find my way into a shuttle – actually an elevator – that whisks me up into the mysterious world of Midnunvora where young people are encouraged to be iZ Heroes as they pick up skills on cyber wellness and learn how to interact safely on line.  I walk through a capsule with posters on its walls, emblazoned with messages that bombard youths with tempting requests to stay on line.  At the entrance to iZ Headquarters, I meet with wise old Master Naam, the yoda-like conscience who motivates and empowers youths to respond appropriately to cyber threats.

“Safety in the real world and in the online world” is the message for children and parents as they experience the 20-minute long exhibit.  Through info plaques and interactive games, they learn to recognize what “infollution” is, a word coined from information + pollution, and the many dangers that lurk in the online community.  As more young children start to use smart phone devices, holistic cyber wellness education for children is vital because they may be accidentally exposed to harmful content or individuals online. 

Students play interactive games to learn to be iZ Heroes
Developed by infollutionZERO, a non-profit organization based in South Korea, in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University and the National Institute of Education, the iZ Hero experience includes a web game, online portal and comic book in addition to the interactive digital exhibition.  In the final part of the exhibit, I pause to watch a “Think you know…” documentary by the BBC and its strong message gives me the shudders.  As I take the shuttle out of Midnunvora, I’m struck with the sobering truth that our children can easily fall prey to people with evil intentions online.

Fast Facts

Singapore Science Centre is located at 15 Science Centre Road, Singapore 609081.  Open daily from 10am to 6pm.  Entrance fees: Adult S$9, Child (3 – 16 years) S$5, Senior Citizens (55 years and above) S$6.  Megabugs Return! is on until 18 August 2013 at the Annexe; Entrance fees: Adult S$16, Child (3 – 12 years) S$13.  Singapore Science Fest 2013 is now on till August 4.  Visit website: www.science.edu.sg

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 25 July 2013

Tribute to Ted

 
Ted Baille with his beloved Jane
I met war veteran, Major (Rtd) Stephen Baille-Reynolds in an oil palm plantation where vintage and classic car enthusiasts in the Malaysia and Singapore Vintage Car Register (MSVCR) gathered for an off-road vintage car challenge in 2007.  Major Stephen, better known as Ted, was with his other half, Jane, a 1928 Austin Seven Chummy bearing registration number B 1451. Born in Oxford, England in 1929, Ted who always joked about his and Jane’s close ages, passed away peacefully at home in Ulu Tiram, Johor, on 20 June 2013.

Ted will always be remembered as a pair with his beloved Jane, the Austin Seven Chummy he christened after English novelist, Jane Austen.  When he was aged 28, Ted bought Jane from her first owner, Chin Voon Foong, on 4 June 1956 and remained committed to her for the last 57 years.  Jane’s relationship with Ted was so special that their 50th anniversary together was marked by a celebration with fellow vintage Austin car owners in Johor Baru – S V Nathan (1928 Chummy), Jimmy Khoo (1935 Ruby) and E S Luke (1930 Chummy), on 4 June 2006.

Ted and Jane being flagged off on the off-road challenge
The story goes that Chin, a building contractor, bought Jane from Borneo Motors Ltd, the then Austin franchise holders and kept her hidden in a room behind a bricked wall to protect her from being pillaged by Japanese troops during their Occupation of Malaya between 1942 and 1945.  Ted and Jane were a familiar sight on the road especially in the 1990s when Ted used to go to church with Jane in a leisurely Sunday drive.  Because he usually puffed a pipe, Ted even earned the endearing moniker as Popeye the Sailorman because he resembled an animated character that always had a pipe in his mouth!

Like many good, patriotic Englishmen, Ted joined the British army after he graduated from Bradfield College in 1947 and was posted to Hong Kong and Korea before arriving in Malaya in 1954.  He served with the Royal Artillery in Korea but the severity of his war injuries left him suffering from acute hypothermia and doctors said that he could not survive more than two years if he lived in England’s temperate climate.  So when Ted got a job with Guthrie, he moved to Malaya and in 1958 he became the proud holder of Malaysian citizenship certificate No. 16.

Jane getting a little help from friends!
His passing is deeply felt by members of the MSVCR as Ted was one of the 12 founding members of the MSVCR in 1955.  Ted, a member of the Malayan Motor Sports Club (MMSC), mooted the proposal to form a Vintage Car Register and when it was approved, the first General Meeting was held in the Harlequin Hotel, Kuala Lumpur on 31 July 1955 and the elected committee comprised A. Gartshore (President) and D. Morten (Secretary & Editor), with Ted as Treasurer.  He was voted back into the committee in 1963 and became the President in 1968.  Ted’s passion for motoring is unsurpassed as he participated in all and won some of the events since the inception of the MSVCR in 1955 until 2010. 

On July 11, in a memorial service for Ted attended by his sister, Pauline Churcher, who came from London, E S Luke a fellow church member and former President of MSVCR, paid tribute to him.  Among other things Luke said that when Jane was in the workshop, Ted a church regular, used to take a bus to the city and give himself a sandwich treat at the café in Tropical Inn before going to church.  He would walk 3km to the church at Jalan Mustafa and often braved the rain, wearing a raincoat that he always kept in his carrier bag. 

Ted with his signature pipe and carrier bag*
S V Nathan recalled going to Tangkak with Ted in the 1990s, each driving their Austin Chummy cars and their exciting adventures with the Police and how Jane suffered mechanical breakdowns on the road every 10 minutes but Ted never gave up on her.  Nathan had been helping to maintain Jane in the past 15 years and knows how much Ted loves her.  In fact, 4 days before his passing, Ted called Nathan to ask him, “How is my car?”

When Andre Sean Sibert, General Manager of the former Merlin Tioman (now Berjaya Tioman) read Ted’s obituary in the newspapers, he expressed his condolences on the passing of a great pilot and colleague.  He said Ted was their most experienced pilot who braved all sorts of weather challenges in Tioman during the years between 1976 and 1981.  This reminds us that Ted not only had a passion for motoring but also had extraordinary adventures in the sky!

The dynamic duo, Ted and Jane, attracts a crowd anywhere!



Ted owned an 18-year old single-seater Danish KZ III, 9M-AMF plane and completed a solo flight that left Kuala Lumpur on 30 October 1964 on a journey through Bangkok, Rangoon, Chittagong, Calcutta, Bahrain, Cairo, and arrived in Tunis on November 16 – a total of 17 days before continuing to Gatwick in the United Kingdom.  Only sheer determination and courage drove Ted to complete some 15,000 km, flying at low altitudes, battling all kinds of weather and enduring physical discomfort without air-conditioning!

Ted and Jane has left us with a proud legacy that vintage cars should be driven and enjoyed instead of just being kept as showpieces and investments.  His friends have an abundance of anecdotes about experiences with Ted and Jane and space does not permit me to list them here but we will fondly remember Ted as a true gentleman who lived his life to the full as he pursued his passion in flying and motor sports.  Ted’s presence and witty humour will be sadly missed in future MSVCR meets but he will always be honoured as a true MSVCR hero. 

* Photo taken outside Ted's house in Ulu Tiram, Johor - Courtesy of Perfect Clean cleaning company

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 23 July 2013

Science is Fun

Hands-on activities brings the Science lesson alive!
The Singapore Science Festival 2013, held from July 19 to August 4, is Singapore’s largest annual science event.  Taglined, “Science is Fun,” the Science Fest has over 70 exciting events, activities and exhibitions to showcase science in an attractive, experiential and relevant way to everyday life.  In addition to a host of activities, it will also feature world-class speakers and science performers from the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore.  This year’s Science Fest will be its biggest yet with mega events and exhibitions held at various locations throughout the city state and are expected to attract a larger turnout than last year.

Ken Faquhar, renowned science entertainer will
perform tricks and explain the science behind each trick
The Festival will kick off on July 19 with the launch of X-periment!, a weekend science carnival at Marina Square, where visitors can get the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities, meet local scientists and witness the innovations by A*STAR research institutes, local companies and scientific companies.  The STAR Lecture, targeted at 13 to 16-year old students, approaches the teaching of science to youths in an engaging and entertaining way.  Dr Peter Wothers, Teaching Fellow at the University of Cambridge, will delve into the chemistry of the world around us through his show, “The Modern Alchemist” while internationally renowned science entertainer Ken Faquhar will perform circus tricks and explain the science behind each trick.

Mega size grasshopper and other creatures at the
Megabugs Return! exhibition
The anchor event of this year’s Science Fest is Megabugs Returns!, an exhibition of animatronics of mega proportions at the Singapore Science Centre from now till August 18.  Visitors will be transported to an imaginary world where they are “shrunk” as they come face-to-face with 3-metre tall insects and garden creatures like grasshopper, praying mantis, butterfly, beetle, ant, cockroach and centipede.  The exhibition also features a showcase of live insects and rare specimens. 

A first-of-its-kind 3-day Science Street Fair at the Singapore Science Centre will be packed with food, games, shows, workshops, competitions and many exciting activities in 120 stalls set up throughout the 8 zones in the Science Centre.  Another crowd favourite is the Singapore Mini Maker Faire where makers of all ages will showcase their range of creative projects in science, arts, crafts, engineering and technology.

Students showing of their talents at the Science
Buskers Festival last year
At the Science Buskers Festival, participants from all walks of life are encouraged to show off their creativity in communicating science in a fun and creative manner.  Participants will do a “show-and-tell” on any science topic in the most engaging way and visitors will have a chance to vote for their favourite buskers.  

Over in the Art Science Museum, Marina Bay Sands, visitors can travel back in time to unravel the science of ancient Egyptian burial practices in the Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb Exhibition.  This exhibition showcases 6 mummies and more than 100 artifacts including the statuette of the Egyptian god Amun-Ra from between 664 – 305 BC.  The centerpiece of this exhibition is Nesperennub, a temple priest who lived 3,000 years ago.

A section of the Kids Science Fest in 2012
 
“This year’s festival promises to be bigger and better, with more partners from the private and public sector, launch of new events and the return of crowd favourites like the X-periment!, STAR Lectures and the Mini Maker Faire,” said Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive of the Singapore Science Centre.  “We believe the larger scale of this year’s festival will provide added depth to help visitors discover the wonders of science in a fun and engaging manner,” he added.

Commenting on the significance of the Festival, Dr Lim Khiang Wee, Executive Director of the A*STAR Graduate Academy said, “Through this festival, we hope many will see the value of science and be inspired towards careers in scientific research to improve the quality of life.  The various festival events underscore how science can be a fun and rewarding field with untold potential that holds real life relevance in everything we do.”

The Singapore Science Festival is jointly organised by the Science Centre Singapore, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and Cityneon.  For more info and venue details, visit website: www.sciencefest.sg or go to Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/singaporesciencefest

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 23 July 2013
 

SkyPark at MBS

View of MBS with the SkyPark above and the
Art Science Museum [Left] from Singapore River Cruise
Since my post on Strong Convent Bonds was published in June, my classmates have been sharing it around and many more girls were connecting with each other.  From emails to phone calls, many have got in touch with Stella again and as Hwee Ling and Lee Chin were planning a visit to the UK, they even managed to meet with Stella there!

Since our last class reunion in December 2012, we agreed that there will not be any formal reunion until probably another four year’s time but anyone can find an excuse to get together.  Children’s weddings are good reasons to get a few friends together for a party.  Those who live and work in Singapore can even call a few friends together when they visit Johor Baru.  Meeting up with any one returning from abroad is also another excuse for a meal and chit-chat. 

It’s now July and emails are being exchanged to discuss a date for a marathon makan – tea stretching into dinner – when Pat, who lives in Australia, will be in Singapore in September.  While her husband will be busy with his meetings, she is making major plans with the girls for a little reunion.  Ideas and suggestions have been discussed and discarded but it looks like there is now a general consensus to meet in Marina Bay Sands for a SkyPark experience together.

Guests are given a wrist band to wear as you enter
the SkyPark
I say, “Yay!” because the SykPark, perched on the 57th level of MBS’s three towers, is indeed a special experience because its boasts panoramic views of the Singapore city skyline.  Spanning the length of four and a half A380 Jumbo Jets, with an impressive 12,400 sq mtrs of floor space, the SkyPark is one of the world’s largest gravity-defying cantilevers. 

Last year I was a guest of MBS Singapore and had the privilege of strolling along the sky-deck to enjoy the vastly different views of the city by day and by night.  It was so breath-taking that I made it a point to take a stroll there every day during my stay and did not even mind the heady ear-popping feeling as the elevator whisked me skyward and back!
Here are some spectacular views to convince anyone who is still hesitating about joining Pat and the others for an experience at the SkyPark at MBS:

View of Gardens by the Bay from the SkyPark

Night view of Gardens by the Bay from balcony in my room
Enjoying the view from the SkyPool
Swimming in the SkyPool by night
View of The Singapore Flyer by night - the light on the Flyer changes every few minutes!
Lying on deck chairs to enjoy the night view from the SkyPark

The Singapore city skyline by night
Here's what Pat said in response:

Peggy, 

OMG I had heard the MBS was something special, but had no idea it is THAT special...I had a hint of vertigo just from looking at your photos from the amazing height.

Reading your write up, I really must look for my loosest clothes!

See you in Sept.

xPat

/pl



Johor heritage food

Welcome plaque at entrance to the ballroom
 
In the holy month of Ramadan, for many the breaking-of-fast may be the best part of fasting.  After the long hours of abstaining from food and drink, it is like arriving at an oasis of refreshment where they are rewarded with a wide range of mouth-watering delicacies.  This year, Thistle Johor Baru’s ExecutiveChef Imran Hamid is challenged to create a menu of authentic Johor dishes to meet the discerning tastes of Johorean diners. 

Johor is a melting pot of cultures and a myriad of flavours have evolved into typically Johor favourites in the 150 dishes presented in the Warisan Johor or Johor Heritage buka puasa buffet.  I’m honoured to be among the guests in a recent berbuka puasa or breaking-of-fast dinner themed, “An Iftar To Remember” at the Thistle Johor Baru and I wasted no time in seeking out familiar food like mee rebus and kacang pol.  No amount of describing will do justice to the food so you must try it to agree that the team of chefs has certainly outdone themselves in preparing an array of mouth-watering flavours from appetizers, drinks, desserts to main course meals of briyani gam, ayam percik and satay, otak-otak and so much more!

Here’s a glimpse of what I saw to whet your appetite:
 

Freshly fried favourites [Clockwise from the top]: Fried quail, curry puffs, pandan chicken,
popia or spring rolls, net-wrapped durian rolls and crispy keropok!
Cuttings of chicken are marinated as ayam percik and freshly grilled
 
Kacang Pol is a humble dish of toasted bread to savour dipped in a creamy, nutty gravy
reminiscent of the mee rebus gravy.  Here the serving comes with a whole bull’s eye egg!
Generous servings of stewed lamb shank, simmering in rich gravy – ready to soak into
fragrant long grains of briyani rice!
I’m a serious mee rebus fan but to save space in my stomach for other food, I wisely requested
for a tiny serving!
Burasak, which has Bugis origins, can be described as steamed nasi lemak rice wrapped in leaves. 
I first tasted burasak on a Bugis Culture tour in Serkat, Pontian so I know how to savour burasak
with a choice of assam pedas dishes presented in the buffet.

When I spotted chilled Milo in the buffet, I cannot resist the familiar taste that brought back fond memories of school sports days and the limited number of vouchers I got to exchange for tiny tumblers of delicious chilled Milo!  I may still have to queue but here, I can have countless helpings to savour and reminisce on sipping this drink from the Milo van on school sports days!
 
Executive Chef Imran Hamid [Standing first row, 3rd from Right] with his enthusiastic
team of chefs at the Thistle Johor Baru
 
Your Warisan Johor buka puasa meal at the Thistle Johor Baru comes with live ghazal music.   Daily during Ramadan at the Orchid Ballroom at RM95++ per person, with 25% off for children below 12 years old.  For every 10 vouchers purchased, you get a free voucher.  For reservations, call Tel: 607 – 267 8984 (9am to 5pm) and Tel: 607 – 222 9234 Ext 80189 (5pm to 9pm).
/pl


Our Mossie Fight


Did you know this about the Aedes mosquito?
I first studied about mosquitoes in Science class from Mr Raja, our secondary school Science teacher, and I remember how we tested his patience and embarrassed him by asking lots of curious questions especially in Biology lessons. 

Mr Raja introduced me to various types of mosquitoes – Culex, Aedes and Anopheles – and the diseases they spread.  It was fascinating to learn that minute creatures like mosquitoes are vectors that can transmit a virus from one person to another and cause so much pain and discomfort – and in some cases, even death. 

Giant model of Aedes mosquito seen at the
Megabugs Return! exhibition on now at the
Singapore Science Centre till August 18
I’m very prone to mosquito attacks as my skin will break out in red wheals and my friends know that I never leave home without a tube of soothing Mopiko.  I’m wary of mosquitoes, not only because of my instant itchy reaction to mosquitoes feeding on my blood, but because I’m familiar with the challenges involved in dealing with dengue fever and chikungunya attack. 

A few years ago, I was on a travel assignment in Tanjung Balau when I received a phone call from my friend, sounding desperate and delirious, saying that she needed a blanket!  Then I learnt that she was in a private hospital, warded for dengue fever and her repeated requests for an additional blanket seemed to be in vain.  I assured her that I will bring a blanket as soon as I’m back in city and immediately called another friend who worked with the hospital to arrange for a blanket to be provided as the dengue fever must have been giving our friend awful chills.

Patient at the counter of a private clinic
 
When I saw my friend in the hospital, she was resting with an intravenous drip to keep her hydrated but she was cheerful and determined to get well.  As there are no vaccines for dengue fever, the only medicine given was to control the fever and keep her comfortable.  With the recurring fever she also had no appetite to eat so throughout her hospital stay, I sent her my mum’s home-cooked food with slow-boiled soups to encourage her to eat and soon, she was on the road to full recovery.

For some patients, dengue can be fatal because a recent newspaper report stated that Johor recorded seven cases of deaths from dengue fever in the past six months.  The same report said that with 658 cases reported nationwide, the number of dengue cases compiled on a weekly basis showed that it has reached a critical level.  In neighbouring Singapore, there was a significant rise in the number of dengue fever cases with a record 816 cases in a single week [2 to 8 June], and between May and June, the city state recorded three deaths from dengue.

Sign outside the door at a private clinic
 
Both the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, Asian Tiger Mosquito species thrive in a wide range of water-filled breeding sites and there are many places in homes, offices, industrial sites and particularly in construction sites, where stagnant water can collect.  Take a closer look and be proactive about emptying artificial containers like discarded crockery, flower vases and saucers under potted plants and not overlook the bamboo stumps, tree holes and coconut shells in our gardens.  By pouring water out of containers, filling puddles or ponds and creating better drainage, we can do something helpful to eliminate mosquito breeding sites.  

Interestingly these mosquitoes bite throughout the day and their feeding activities peak in the early morning and late afternoon.  Both these species are found to feed outdoors but the greedy Aedes aegypti will readily feed indoors.  These findings simply mean that we are hardly free from mosquito attacks at all times of the day, whether we are indoors or out!

Large crowd of patients waiting to collect their prescriptions
at a clinic in Hospital Sultanah Aminah, Johor Baru
 
Like dengue fever, chikungunya is a rare viral fever that is transmitted by the bites of infected female Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.  I first heard about chikungunya from reports on its outbreak in India and when I had my first attack, I was knocked out with fever, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rashes but the joint pain was simply debilitating.  As in dengue, there are no vaccines and I did not regain my normal strength until a few months later but this horrible experience gave me antibodies to fight the virus when I had a second attack in mid 2009 and recently, to recover from my third attack in June.

The truth is dengue fever and chikungunya cannot spread directly from one person to another but it spreads when an infected Aedes mosquito bites another person with low immunity.  We can try to prevent mosquito bites by wearing protective clothing, using mosquito nets or by applying insect repellent but let’s go to the source and eliminate mosquitoes by getting rid of their breeding grounds.  The fact remains that dengue is the most life-threatening and fastest spreading mosquito-borne disease and we must do our part to eliminate the mosquito’s habitat and wipe out this dreadful disease in our own neighbourhoods.
 
A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 11 July 2013