Saturday, March 31, 2007

Class trip to Cornwall

Class photo taken at Eden Poject

I was away at Cornwall for the whole week. It was a class trip. The purpose of the trip was to look at various sustainable practices in the UK - Wessex Water's carbon neutral building, the Eden Project, disused China Clay mine and heathland restoration project, urban regeneration in Cambourne, Pool and Redruth, and wind energy project in Bears Down. Therefore, it wasn't just Cornwall per se but several other places along the way.

Our first stop was at the Wessex Water, owned by Malaysia's YTL Group. Felt kinda proud as a Malaysian because it is not only owned by a Malaysian company but is also one of the most sustainable and well managed water utility company in the UK. The purpose of visiting the Wessex Water was to look at how little details in the building design could save energy consumption e.g sun and wind direction, rainwater harvesting and the absence of air-conditioning in the building.

Our next stop was Bath which is an old city in Wessex. The trip wasn't all about academic stuff. We stopped over in Bath to walk around and it was a great opportunity for foreign students like me to look at other cities in England. I can't always be knowing England by knowing Cambridge and London only.

Coming to Bath is like visiting an ancient Roman city. In fact, the highlight of this city was the Roman Bath. I thought I could get a short "onsen" in Bath but realised that it was only a tourist attraction. However, there really was a public bath which I didn't go because it was away from the city.

Roman Bath

L to R: Bettina, Don and me. Background overlooking the Cathedral.

The above two photos were taken at the Roman Bath. The paid admission into Roman Bath was also inclusive of a guided phone. It was really convenient, as it means that I could dictate where I want to go and when I want to do it without having a real guide around.

Next, we headed for Newquay, the place that we put up for 3 nights. Newquay is a beachside tourist resort in Cornwall, known for surfing. However, the water was just too cold for me to train up for triathlon, so I ended up playing football with the ESDers.

A trip to Cornwall isn't complete without trying their local pasty. In fact, Cornish pasties are everywhere in the UK but it's really hard to miss it especially in Cornwall.

I loved it. The nearest to describe Cornish pasty is the Malaysian curry puff with (almost) the size of an open palm (or four times the size of curry puff), stripped off the curry flavour. The content depends on what you order but I noticed the traditional filling was steak. There is also the common ones like pork and apple. History has it that the Cornish pasty was originally made as lunch for Cornish miners (mining was Cornwall's main industry in the early days) who were unable to return to the surface to eat. Covered in dirt from head to foot , they could only hold the pasty by the folded crust and eat the rest of it, discarding the dirty pastry.

My version of eating Cornish pasty; with tomato and mayonaisse; came out like eating hamburgers. The brown sauce turned out to be a disaster.

The highlight of the entire trip was the Eden Project. There are two biomes in Eden Project and one in the outdoor featuring temperate climate plants. The two biomes are Humid Tropics and Warm Temperate. It is the biggest greenhouse in the world and is high enough to hold the Tower of London or eleven double-decker buses piled on top of one another.

The Biomes are made up of hexagons of various sizes, the largest of which are approximately 9m across.
Below is the Humid Tropics Biome which features the tropical forest in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and parts of Africa. I felt like I was back in Malaysia as soon as I stepped into the biome. I had to take off my sweater. The temperature was exactly like Malaysia, around 25 to 28 deg C, except that there was no wind.
Above: Malaysia House; a typical local village in the Malaysian forest

"Hari ini tanam padi, besok makan nasi"; what the heck was that??!! It sounded really stupid. Whoever wrote that should be shot!

Above: Tropical forest

Above: Tulips from the Warm Temperate Biome

We were also at the Imerys China Clay site to look at how heathland in old mines could be restored. I think it is a massive task to convert a few hundred acres of old mine into heathland. I still remember when I was in a 1200-acre housing project which took 10 years to develop. In addition, we also had the opportunity to look at how kaolin/China clay is processed from mining production to the finish product.
In the kaolin production facility
Finally we were at the Bears Down wind farm to look at renewable energy initiatives in the UK. Bears Down is the largest wind farm in Cornwall and supplies energy to 7500 homes with only 16 wind turbines.

The only time I look forward to in the trip; the evenings. Chilling out at the bar. Don't get me wrong, the bar culture in UK is what mamak is for Malaysians.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Al-Gore's Inconvenient Truth

Full house in Guildhall

Former Vice President of the United States, Al-Gore, came today and presented his "Inconvenient Truth". It was organised by the University's Climate Project and held at the Guildhall. But there's no cheap deal even for students. Tickets went for 10pounds. It was worth it even though I have watched the video version. Watching it live was a totally different experience.
Al-Gore, former Vice President of the United States
I am still thinking of my true intentions of going to Guildhall; if I went there just to see Al-Gore, because he was after all the former VP of US, or genuinely wanted to immerse in a 2-hour global climate change talk. The revelations were interesting as well as shocking, but since I've seen that in the video already, I guess going there to see him was the most likely reason to seeing "Inconvenient Truth" the 2nd time.

One of the slides..
I wouldn't bother summarising the talk in this blog because it's in the DVDs now and you can get them anywhere. But I do have a snippet of him that I recorded in my camera, if you care to find out.

Monday, March 26, 2007

UKEC Careers Fair

University College London

Yesterday was the 3rd UKEC Careers Fair held in University College London. There were more than 30 big names from Malaysia that set up booths and hundreds, if not thousands of Malaysians who attended the event. It's a fair to "cajole" Malaysian students to return and help develop the country. "The country needs you!"

Malaysian lunch. In case you were wondering if it was free; no it wasn't. 4 quid.

I wasn't expecting much from the fair. After all, based on past experiences with other careers fair in Cambridge, 99% were catered for graduating students. Well, I was right for the UKEC one too. Nothing that caught my attention.

What I liked about the event was that I didn't place any expectation on the type of job, people or company. So why did I attend? Well, simple reasons; weekend trip, meet some Malaysians, moral support to my UKEC friends, check out Khazanah and hopefully win a trip back to Malaysia. I didn't win it anyway. But I had loads of fun and surprises as the hours unfolded.

Siti Salina, who came all the way from University of Leeds

I bumped into Siti Salina, one of this year's Chevening scholars. I was glad she called out my name and checked if I was the right person she was looking for. I guess having a blog serves a purpose after all. I had always thought that blogs were just snapshots of life in writing. Now I get to meet new people too! Absolutely no need for ice-breakers. I realised we chatted as if we knew each other for ages. That's awesome!;)

Al-Azmy, how should I address him? Ex-student of Cambridge or S.O. to Datuk Azman?

Then I met Al-Azmy, who was manning the booth for Khazanah. Al-Azmy was 2003/2004's batch of MPhil in Technology Policy student at the University of Cambridge. He's also in the same Cambridge-MIT Institute programme as I am. Great stuff. Coincidentally, he also knew Hasli Hasan who did his ESD in 2004/2005. Hear the best part: Al-Azmy and Hasli are both the Special Officer to the Managing Director of Khazanah, Datuk Azman Mokhtar. What a small world! So, what's my take on Khazanah? No idea man, let me just finish my course first. There are already 13 Cambridge graduates in Khazanah now.

Also had the rare opportunity to meet our no-frills airline mogul, Datuk Tony Fernandes. He's a brilliant and humble man. There's no air of arrogance in him. He gets to the ground and chats with people, regardless if you have the mood for it! He was telling us his past success and failure stories and how it moulded him to be what he is today. Dig this; he mortgaged his house and took a RM20million loan to start Air Asia and today the business is valued at a staggering RM4.5billion. He's got a great story in him and no wonder, he's such a successful man. I did asked him two questions though;

Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia; prefers to be called as Tony, without the Datuk.

"Tony, did you fly here on MAS?"
He said, "Errm, actually, no. I took Qatar."

"So, what do you have for a Civil Engineer like me?"
He answered, "Do you like to build some of my hotels? Well, Tune Hotel is coming up...."

Hotels? Maybe not. I'd prefer an air hangar though and maybe two pantries in it; one for the engineers, one for cigarette breaks.

Maybe I'd drop him an email...but in the mean time, I reckon I had a hair cut.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

British Summer Time

This Sunday, from about 2 am, the clocks will change. We will lose an hour; the same hour that we gained last autumn. The good news is that we gain an extra hour of daylight in the evenings. It's back to 7 hours behind Malaysian time again.

There were many reminders to set our clocks an hour ahead tonight in order to be right for tomorrow. An easy way to remember: "Spring forward, and fall back".

New Footprint For London Marathon

The new addition in my running shoes collection

My new pair of shoes just arrived from Malaysia. The roads in London would be having the footprint of Saucony Grid Trigon 4 Ride on April 22. Now I have three pairs of running shoes to train on. The cushion for the earlier two pairs have already worn out and exceeded the maximum 600km mark. The new pair would be just right for the London Marathon!

The reason I bought it from Malaysia and sent it over here was because it's still cheaper even with the postage and I get to help my running friend, Choi, (who's also selling the shoe) to close a sale! Yay!

I am really impressed by the delivery time it took to arrive here. It was sent out on Tuesday evening and it arrived today, less than a week! Thanks to Irene for coordinating the delivery.

On hindsight, I felt a little guilty for the high carbon footprint in doing that. But I guess I am just doing what ordinary people would be doing and it boils down to the economics of product pricing and common sense after all. Economics of pricing...hmm, I guess I shouldn't be using all these jargons here. You really can't blame me if you look at the photo close enough to what I've been doing here....

Is there such thing as shoe porn?

The Star: Consumption a moral issue

Alot of what we talked about in the previous article have been summarised into this new one. It is also in response to another article that supported Bjorn Lomborg's contention; of all persons...

**Some of what I originally wrote had been truncated by the Editor. Sorry if the file could not be enlarged. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Blogger issue. Do click on the online article to read.**

Malaysian Daily: The Star
Date: 24 March 2007
Page: N51
Online article:

Monday, March 19, 2007

I'm in!!!

After months of anticipation and suspension, I finally received a confirmation for my entry in the 2007 London Marathon. It'd be held on 22 April.

It's a dream come true to run in the World's No 1 marathon.

It's ranked no.1 for many reasons and I can understand why. The expectation built up towards this race is tremendous.
Confirmation letter for the Marathon

My bib is 51152. This is the first time I'm getting a 5 digit number for a running event. 4-digit numbers are common. I guess there'd be at least 50,000 runners and the traffic in London would come to a standstill on that day. There are even 3 starting points to stagger the race! As my entry was considered late, I'd be shoved to the red start. The red start is for runners from 33,251 to 54250.

Imagine the KL Marathon that commanded only a little more than a thousand runners (I feel shy telling this, actually) and the traffic was horrendous. The Singapore Marathon is pretty well organised though, they had 20,000 over runners. But imagine what 55,000 runners would cause.

The magazine sent out to runners are building up the steam. There are so many interesting tips and articles in it and I have extracted some for this blog:
The timing of the run would be similar to other races like KLIM. They'd be using the championchip. I think I should say that KLIM is similar to this race instead.

Clearly, this is directing to the guys (and Pacesetters members) only, hahaha!!

Another peculiar notice in the magazine. Showers to cool down??!! I was imagining the type from the bathrooms similar to those used at the transition areas for triathlons. I wouldn't want to run soaked in water man! Besides, I wonder how hot it could get in England's spring as compared to the tropical heat in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand! But it'd be sexy in that wet look though, if I can't sweat after 30km...hahaha!

The goodie that came with the registration pack. Red shoe lace in support of the signatory charity organisations. For every red shoe lace spotted in the race, a quid is donated to the charities. I think it'd go well with my new running shoes (soon..) and it's nice if I could help too.

But even if they used Google Map (which I don't think so), I think it is a good way to point out the route, drink stations, distance markers and toilets. Remember when I told you about the confusion of using miles?

And finally, this is something I would absolutely look forward to. The fancy dress marathon! I am curious if they could also get on the wet-look....**evil grin**
I really hope that one day the Malaysian marathons, be it the Kuala Lumpur, Penang or Putrajaya could reach to this level of success and publicity. I hope my great grandchildren are not too old to run then.

Friday, March 16, 2007

AI in Cambridge

Disclaimer: This article does not affiliate me to any political party or persons who are.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's former Deputy Prime Minister was invited by the Cambridge Union to give a talk on "Asia in the World: Examining Economic Growth and Social Justice in the 21st Century" this evening.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at The Chamber, Cambridge Union

It certainly was thought-provoking and absolutely marvellous to be able to hear from the "other side of the story", especially from someone who once had so much power in the country and suddenly lost it all overnight. He went through six-years of jail sentence and became a "political martyr" as some people may call him.

He was very critical about the past administration. It was certainly a good platform to hear about his take on the cause of his political fight in Malaysia and the "untold" stories that unfolded in 1998 till present. Revelations...yum yum...

Tengku Azela raised a question which caught me by surprise while taking a video during the Q&A. She asked if there were Malaysian intelligence in the talk because some students in other universities were apparently instructed to refrain from talks given by the oppositions. Students on government scholarships were "advised" to refrain from going. It's terrible if it's true.

So, isn't it clear and understandable now for my unusual opening remark for this particular article?

The short clip that I took captured the interesting bit of the talk. Among those that deserve mentioning:

"I want Malaysia to be proud of its universities"

"I want Universiti Malaya to be the premier university in the entire Commonwealth"

"Now, we're a bit better than Zimbabwe" (most likely pun intended)

"I've moved to Segambut..." (I used to go there for my dose of seafood noodles..hahaha)

"....were told by the High Commission to withdraw. So they go, although they came"

When it was time for personal questions I asked Datuk Seri:

"Datuk Seri, in your time as the DPM, you had so much power in the country and were likely to implement changes more effectively than you are now. What have you done to stop all these bad things from happening; the claim of nepotism, cronyism and corruption in the coalition party which you were once part of? Obviously, you didn't want to be the unpopular one.**truncated**
Datuk Seri replied: "Well, I had tried but obviously these were not obvious then. I was the one who created the Anti-Corruption Agency, the one who tried to remove the Internal Security Act and....**truncated**

I asked again: "You were seen as the political martyr in Malaysia. You went through 6 years in jail and paradoxically Malaysians have benefited alot from your predicament. There was a huge revelation by you in the political scene and your removal from the government is really, ahem, I would say, "not that bad after all". I guess, we wouldn't have gotten to the level of details about the government if you were still the DPM. **truncated**

Datuk Seri replied: "**smile** 6 years of suffering, assault and torture in solitary confinement were all worth it..." **truncated**


And more photo opportunities...

Disclaimer again: I'm only a technician for the mic that Datuk Seri was using, I don't know anything. I am only a by-stander, please don't blame me for reporting the truth. Please don't take my iPod, please.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The End of Lent Term

Today is the end of Lent Term in Cambridge. It marks the end of our taught component in the MPhil programme. Another milestone in the Cambridge journey.

We will begin on a (quiet) 4-month individual research work for our dissertations. Would it mean lesser late-night sleeps, courseworks and tight deadlines? I really don't know.

But what I'm certain is that we have to complete (at least) a substantial part of the 12,000-15,000 word dissertation by July when the dissertation conference will take place. That is equivalent to 4-5 pieces of 3000-word assignment which we were already doing in the taught component.

Besides, we have spill-over assignments from Lent to work on. I still have a piece of 4000-word, 2 pieces of 3000-word and a pamphlet design assignment. All in all, a staggering 10,000-word assignment and 1 pamphlet design! It's really no fun yet, even though we have a so-called 2-week break from April Fool's.

I guess the silver lining in April's research work would be having 4 months (or equivalent to two terms) in doing a term's worth of assignments. So, it'd be less taxing on the hours. Besides, I could now wake up any time I choose to! Yay!! I must enjoy every moment of this liberation before working life starts again.

It's a mixed reaction actually. I am really looking forward to doing my dissertation as I think it's one of those controversial topics in the UK. Controversies sell. Biofuel's sustainability is widely debated here and I'm doing just that. I just can't wait to dwell into the dissertation and look at the issue.

On the other side, I am dreading it as I would be working all alone by myself. No more official contact hours with the lecturers, ESD friends and powerpoint presentations. It'd just be me, my laptop, my room and ermmm, my contacts in the palm oil industry. I would be doing my dissertation on the Sustainability of Palm Biodiesel in Malaysia.

Speaking of which, I did a poster similar to my dissertation topic for one of the assignments in the taught component. I thought that since I had to put in so much effort in the process, I might as well make it as my dissertation poster so that I could reuse it for the dissertation conference later on.

Panoramic view of the posters layout in the classroom. 36 posters altogether in A2 and A1 sizes . The tiny red box is where my poster was located. Click to enlarge.

My poster

The end of term is also when vacation borrowing in the libraries begin. Borrowing starts at 8.45am and I thought I would be an early bird at that time to get the books that I wanted for my assignments. Heck no! I was so wrong! There were already people queuing as early as 7.30am (as told by the librarian).

I didn't get all the books that I wanted from the library but I managed to get all of them in the end from other (legitimate) "sources". **sneaky me yeh!**Hahaha... (email me if you need help and I'll give you a 101 tutor in sneaky book-borrowing solutions)

The queue at the library today.

And people had always been referring to Singaporeans as "kiasu" (afraid to lose). Quite recently the term were already making its way into Malaysia. So I thought I was going to win the title this time but I lost! I bloody lost! Not to Malaysians, not to Singaporeans but to others. Even Singaporeans lost! Hahaha! It was just unbelievable.

But guess what, I bumped into one of my compatriots who was already checking out with the books at the counter when I arrived....(name withheld for his safety reason;) )*wink*

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ad That Touches The Heart

Petronas' ads never fail to make people think after watching them. Its short ads usually show how ordinary Malaysians do ordinary things in life and end with powerful messages that touch the hearts of the people. I always look forward to seeing Petronas ads during festive seasons.

Above: This year's Chinese New Year ad (in Cantonese with English subtitle)

Above: 2006 Chinese New Year Ad (In Hokkien with Malay subtitle)

Above: 2006 Hari Raya (Eid Mubarak) Ad (In Malay with English subtitle)

The Star: Backlash by Nature

An email alert popped up. It was from an ex-colleague of mine. "I read your article in The Star today".

Another ex-colleague sent the file to me.

Malaysians need to wake up to environmental issues...

Malaysian Daily: The Star

Date: 13 March 2007

Page: N45

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Japan Day

The Japanese Culture has never failed to amaze me with their rich and fine art and the great length put into perfecting it. Today I had a "refresher course" at the Cambridge Kaetsu Centre for the Japan Day, co-organised by the Japanese Embassy.

Japanese dolls

It was one thing learning the Japanese culture in Japan and a totally different experience learning it in a foreign country or see others learning them here. It was also more exciting blogging about the Japanese culture in the UK. That's because I understood the whole process from start to finish this time. Why? Because they were all explained in English as compared to previously!
I found the calligraphy section extremely interesting! It reminded me when I was learning it in in Japan. We spreaded calligraphy over a few lessons and today, they had it in 5 mins! The presence of foreigners made it looked even more bizarre.

Tea Ceremony (Chado 茶道)

This particular photo also reminded me so much about the time when I experienced the same thing in Niigata. However, the okashi (dessert) is somewhat different this time. It was some wafer instead of the proper redbean-filled okashi. The one I had in Japan was a plum-shaped mochi filled with red-bean paste.

It's been a while since I tasted this.

She kept looking at the back!

The battle of origami between a Japanese and a Malaysian.

It was a tough battle. Shunji couldn't do the paper crane (could you believe it?!) but was able to do a flower pot. I could do a paper crane but not the flower pot. But then, we both didn't know how to do a little jumping frog (kaeru-chan), so it was a draw! Kiki taught us both instead! We had a jumping frog competition. Shunji's frog was always overturning, Kiki's was basically limping, mine was really jumping. Yay! Haha...

Ready, Set, Jump!

This is really Char Siu Pau, trust me! I told Shunji that I didn't remember eating or seeing any Char Siu Pau in Japan, so how could it be Japanese. But he said, "Hey, there're plenty in Yokohama's Chinatown!"...I was like...cehhhh....still Chinese food mah! I mean, of all Japanese food....Char Siu Pau, aiyo!

Only maki-sushi, wallop only. No sashimi, too bad!

A British performing the Taiko drum. She was trained in Tokyo.

Have a go at the song

Whenever I feel nostalgic, Rimi Natsukawa's "Nada Sou Sou"(涙そうそう) comes to mind. Just don't know why.

This Japan Day made me reminiscent those good ol' days in Niigata. I was so overwhelmed with nostalgic feelings that at one point I thought of going back to Japan for a PhD! But whenever I had thoughts of that, Urasa comes to mind and wipes them off immediately.