Friday, June 29, 2007

Terror Alert in London

I had planned to visit Poh today in London since it was his last day here before he takes on a job with Shell Malaysia. Unaware of what has happened over in London, I firmed up the plan and decided to meet him in the afternoon and stay over to help him pack his stuff.

Then I heard on the radio news that the police has sealed off Haymarket due to a car bomb threat. Haymarket is smacked in between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. You'd probably pass through Haymarket on your way to Charing Cross. What's in those places? Musical theatres, pubs, restaurants, Chinatown and shopping complexes like the Trocadero! So, you can imagine there'd be $H!T loads of people including tourists. I'd probably be there too if I had to meet Poh today. But why am I blogging about it? Even if I were there, the bomb has already been discovered and I'd be safe anyway. So what's the big deal?

Personally, thinking about it sends shivers to my spine. I mean, it could have gone off anytime if it weren't found! And if it weren't found, there'd be no news and if there were no news, I'd be there. Again if it weren't found, no one would know the time of detonation. So, anyone who were fated to pass by that place today and did not make it has their Gods to thank for..and yea the drunk driver who knocked on the Mercedes Benz!

There's a Chinese saying that "sometimes a small fortune in life is sacrificed unexpectedly so that the bad omen is ward off from befalling onto you". Call it superstition, but I did think about my camera for a moment. Hahaha....sorry if it was such an anti-climax reading it but it's true you know.

Just as I was writing this, I read that a second car bomb was found in Cockspur Street, a stone's throw from Haymarket (like Lot 10 to Plaza Imbi, maybe?).

When you put images of people, tourists, the crowds and all into those places, you just can't help but shudder when you think about the "what ifs" and the only colour you see is red...

**Hey Poh, sorry to have bundled a farewell wish to you with such an unkind subject**

P/S: All photos except the last from BBC's website.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

No more camera

I lost my camera. No more photos for now until I get a new one, which will take some time. It's been with me since late 2005 and am feeling really bad about it. In fact, I just upgraded to a 1GB card! Sigh...

Paris and Disneyland

Semy who's studying in Paris lent a helping hand in locating the Halal shops around Paris. I met her for 3 minutes before she needed to leave for Lille.

I knew I had to start writing about my recent trip to Europe lest I would just let it go and write something else. This was what happened in my previous European trip posting. I stopped at Neuschwanstein and left the whole chunk of Austria and Germany (Salzburg, Vienna and Frankfurt) unwritten. So I'm sorry if you were waiting for postings on that. I have reached the point of no return! I told myself to write something..anything about the trip is still better than nothing. After all, it's only Paris and Amsterdam...and if you count Disneyland as another place. Oh, so you can see I found blogging a chore now!

I had a "triangular" tour doing London-Paris-Amsterdam. I took the Eurostar to Paris. It was a wonderful experience taking the European bullet train and crossing the Channel Tunnel. There's nothing I could see in the tunnel, so let's not shout about it. But the train, I must say was a much smoother and quieter ride than the shinkansen (bullet train) in Japan. Maybe the trains in Japan were much faster, hence the noise. I met Aeni, Fairuz, Rizal and Alia in Paris. They came from Glasgow by flight.

I really have no idea what to talk about Paris. I was so loaded with information and photos that my 1GB memory card was filled with photos and videos. Paris was a great place and a romantic city (I know this is so repetitive and said like millions of times already). Let me quote the Lonely Planet:

La Fayette Shopping Mall

"Everyone has an opinion on Paris, whether they have travelled there or not. Melbourne is affectionately referred to as the Paris of Yarra, Shanghai and Hanoi all lay claim to being the Paris of the East....but Paris is the Paris of the Parisians, the Paris of France, the one and only Paris. Nothing comes close."

It was a very bold but true statement.

The Louvre

As an engineer, I see Paris as an organised city. Some parts of the city are organised in circular order, like a ripple effect, some parts in grids. We started our walk from Louvre Museum, where the Da Vinci Code was filmed or where Mona Lisa was kept and all the way to the Champs Elysees. Champs Elysees was a straight and long boulevard with the Arc de Triomphe at the other end of the road. It was a pleasant walk and the weather was great except for the sporadic drizzles along the way.

Arc de Triomphe

It's not what you think!

Notre Dame Cathedral

Before Louvre, we went to the Notre Dame Cathedral. If you remember the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the gargoyles, that's the place where the animation was centered on.

Church of Sacred Heart

Eiffel Tower

Of course, we went to the icon that people associate the city with, the Eiffel Tower! I could never have thought I would be standing under the real thing one day. I could still remember the miniature tower seated on top of the TV in my living room in Malaysia . It was a souvenir that my mom bought when she was here, perhaps two decades ago or more. So, being able to see it was a breathtaking experience.

Night scene from Eiffel Tower

It was 8pm when we were there, the sky was still bright like Malaysia's 3. So, we took lots of photos and waited until 9pm when the sun was setting and queued to go up the tower. We went up to Platform 2, about mid-level of the tower. It cost us €7.80 to do that but the journey up there and being there, though scary if you're afraid of heights, were worth every penny of it. The tower overlooks River Seine and the entire city. The night scene made it even more special because of the lightings.

Things that people can do with the Eiffel Tower - Lift it? Wear it? Lean it?

Excuse me, I said I want 5 tickets, not billiards! Or did you mean billets?

The next day, we went to Disneyland. Disneyland is located at the outskirt of central Paris, Zone 5 if I remember, at the Marne-la-Vallee. This year they are celebrating their 15th year aniversary, so there were alot of limited edition peripherals. It was my second Disneyland trip though. The first was Tokyo. There were some new rides in Paris which were not found in Tokyo and some of the attractions in Tokyo were taken out and put in the Disney Studios instead, quite a big place when these two parks combine. But we were lucky to have visited the Disney on a weekday, so we were given a student discount. Two parks for €36.40. Very cheap! It would have cost us €43 for a single park entry on a weekend!

The Paris Disneyland allows visitors to take individual shots with the mascots

My past Disneyland experience worked to my advantage. We went in at the opening time and headed straight for the Fastpasses. It was a smarter way to beat the queues and get the ride within minutes rather than hours! I can't believe we managed to get in all the "highly recommended" rides in less than four hours! It was unfortunate I didn't get to ride the Space Mountain in Tokyo because the queue was 2 hours long! Paris has the Space Mountain Mission 2, and it was incredible. We were spun and turned and spun again like a seal playing with a ball in the circus. To make it scarier, the ride was in a totally dark area and you can't even see your hands!

It was such a terrifying ride! Watch this...

We finished most of the rides by 4pm and went to Disney Studios since we bought a double park ticket. We thought Space Mountain was the best so we didn't think Studios would offer anything spectacular. But not until we sat the Rock n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (what a name!). We thought, Aerosmith??? Ah, must be no more than a piggyback ride or so. To our surprise, it was "worse" than the Space Mountain! I can't even stand properly after getting out of the ride. My legs were wobbly and everyone was like..."Oh my God! That was crazy...hahahahhaa!!!". I probably can't describe in words what happened but this is as far as I could remember:

Started from rest to a speed like 80kph in a few seconds. You can imagine the G-force at your back. It was pitch dark and suddenly it made a sharp turn, and then it dropped like 2 seconds before it did 2 cockscrew turns facing downwards. Don't forget you can't see your hands so you can only pray that your head or spectacles doesn't fall off or hit the rail tracks or so. Suddenly there were flashes of lights, and then it went up real high and threw us back into free fall for another 3 to 4 seconds on an 80deg slope or something. Gosh, you prayed that the ride ended immediately because you can't take it anymore and just when you thought of doing that, it does another two more cockscrews to make sure those thoughts we swung out from your brains! When it finally ended, you check if you still had your head. Ermm, and how does one check if they still had their own heads?? O well, that's how you'd think or can't think when you just got out of the Aerosmith...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Longest Pool in the UK

Jesus Green Swimming Pool

I had the opportunity to swim in the longest swimming pool in the UK - Jesus Green Swimming Pool. It's a 100 yard (or 91m) pool, that's almost 2x an Olympic-size I used to swim! The best part is that it's located in Cambridge and I just signed up for a 1-month pass that cost me £31.40; that's alot cheaper than £3.60 per entry. I just had to make sure I swam at least three times a week to get my money's worth. So, I can basically use this pool whenever I like throughout the month, including the Parkside Pool or any of the pools run by the Cambridge City Council.

Effectively, I could only choose between Parkside or Jesus Green because they are located in the city and by a short distance between each other. Parkside is only 25m but it's a heated indoor pool with an average water temperature of 28 deg C throughout the year, which is fantastic especially in this country. Jesus Green isn't heated, there are plenty of floating leaves and the water temperature is 18deg C! That's gonna freeze the ##### of me! But I've already done Jesus Green twice and Parkside once.

Plenty of changing cubicles but my first encounter seeing an open top changing area!

Since I do laps, JG is THE place for laps. I only needed to do 20 laps to clock a mileage of 2km! Swimming in JG is far more promising than in Parkside. 2km in 40minutes the first time, and 38 minutes the second. Parkside? I could hardly know about my time. I lose count easily trying to track 80laps in Parkside. I'd use the card more in Jesus Green.

Parkside Pool

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Grateful moments...

I had two great encounters in one day; the Shell Centenary Scholars' Farewell and the Wolfson June Event.

Phuong and I at the Shell Scholars' event held at Sidney Sussex College

The farewell dinner. Trust me when I said dinner. The photo was taken at 7.45pm. The bright backlight was because of the long daylight that we enjoy here. It only gets really dark at 10pm (equivalent to Malaysia's 8).

The farewell dinner made me realise how time flies. It was as if I was strapped to a bullet train or something! I could never have gone through studies in Cambridge without the scholarship. I feel very thankful to the scholarship trusts every time when I think about all the things I have accomplished in Cambridge that some people could only wish for. On hindsight, I am glad that I didn't let my time in Cambridge whizz away doing nothing. I am still surprised that I was able to juggle my time with the massive workload/assignments in the course, did a few European trips, ran the London marathon and a few other races and a research in Malaysia! I couldn't have packed all these within 9 months in Malaysia but I did it here.

I attended my college's June Event as well, after the farewell dinner and it was a great experience. June Event is similar to May Ball, a very Cambridge thing. Oxford call theirs Commemoration Ball. But they are the same. The reason my college called ours a June Event, according to the Cambridge City Council, was because of its smaller scale of organising, earlier finish time and more restrictive operating budget. There was quite a balance of June Events and May Balls in Cambridge. MB/JE has a theme and Wolfson's was "Treasure Island" (meaning Pirates of the Caribbean kinda stuff). The challenging part was that the event was held through the night until the next morning at 6am! They even have a survivors' photo session at 5.30am.

The JE cost £60 or £35 for non-dining. Either one was too expensive for me. So I didn't bother buying a ticket. Besides, affording a ticket was only half the cost of attending the JE. You would have to abide by a strict dress code too! In Wolfson's case was black tie meaning tuxedo and bowtie. Never worn any of these in my life! So, no chance of attending one.

But as usual, when I rode my bicycle to town and saw the pomp and splendour in other colleges' May Ball, I could only wish that I had the chance to attend one. So I just whispered to myself, "O God, how nice if I could be part of this." Guess what, God answered!

Tom, one of my block mates who was playing the piano for the event asked if I needed a ticket for the JE. Because he was a performer, he didn't need one. I was just surprised that he offered me the ticket because he could have given it to his closer friends or even his girlfriend! I was hesitant at first because I didn't think I should take such an expensive item from someone. I said, " (finger tapping my chin), why don't you give it to your girlfriend or other friends first and if they don't want, you can give it to me." But the little devil in me screamed, " You idiot! Take it, just say yes I want it!" But before I could yell or shout or burst into joyful smiles or whatever, Tom insisted I should take it and said, "Hey, you gave me that Maggi instant noodle from Malaysia, remember? So, I am giving you a piece of paper in exchange, that's all I can give. Hope you don't mind. But I'd get it for you later." He winked and left. I was really dumbfounded. An 8p Maggi mee for a JE ticket??? The math just didn't work!

I went for the farewell by Shell and did not think much about it after that because Tom didn't get back to me with the ticket since he spoke about it 4 hours ago. So I thought he was not given a ticket after all. I came back from the farewell dinner at 9.30pm and there was a note at my door, "Hey I have the spare ticket for free." The ticket was stuck with a blue-tag next to the note. I was really happy though I was drained by the farewell dinner since 6pm.

I had a ticket but without a black tie suit. What a frustrating situation to be in! I called Eskandar if he had a bow tie. He had but it looked terrible with my white shirt and black jacket. He suggested Winson, so I called him. Winson was around and yes, he had a full suit and was willing to lend it to me. Great! Everything worked out well. So, I cycled to Winson's place to try out his suit and it fit on well, as if it was custom-made for me. I couldn't thank him enough for the night.

I must say the JE was such a great experience. Then I realised I was so near to missing the once in a lifetime experience studying in Cambridge. My little prayer said while cycling along Trinity Lane was answered through two different persons sent by the one Almighty...

ESD-ers: Me, Rehab and Don

Michael Jackson?? Not if this one speaks with an English accent.

I loved this chocolate fountain...

I was surprised by the level of seriousness in the game, though no money was involved!

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Last Wolfson Formal

The people I attended the formal with

This would probably be the last time I attended a formal in my college. It's the end of the Easter term and things would start wrapping up from now until August. Quite a sad reality but yeah, I am equally excited to meet up with everyone next time and talk about our careers post-Cambridge. Maybe I'd still able to see some people who'd be continuing their PhDs. Honestly, I am more excited (or worried) about where I'd go after this!

"Where would you go after this man?" "No idea, I probably be looking at taking over some public listed utility companies in my country and turn them into a sustainable business. This is how it works...."

"No way man! This guy must be joking! He's thinking of taking over companies and restructuring them after a short stint in Cambridge!"

An English Outing

The route to Grantchester through the vast expanse of open field was a nice experience

The people I went with

Last Thursday was Gina and Don's birthday. We had a get together at this place called The Orchard. It was a pretty English tea garden. There were park chairs and coffee tables sprawled across the orchard, overlooking a vast expanse of land. The place was well hidden and anyone could easily pass the place without realising it. In fact, I ran passed the place many times for my regular runs without suspecting there was such a beautiful place for tea!

The history of the place was interesting. According to the website, The Orchard started "by accident" when "a group of Cambridge students asked Mrs Stevenson of Orchard House if she would serve them tea beneath the blossoming fruit trees rather than, as was usual, on the front lawn of the House. They were unaware that, on that spring morning in 1897, they had started a great Cambridge tradition."
Gina and Don blowing their cute little birthday cake
The people we met at The Orchard
Just sitting, chilling out and enjoying the sun were such a nice thing to do. After all, everyone took their time off from research to catch up. We only have 3 more months or less before we say goodbye to everyone.

English scones with Cornish clotted cream and jam. Served with English tea. All these for only £4.50

Does it imply that the park chairs are a hot item too?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Goodbye Terence Leong

Terence Leong and wife
I was very sad this morning when I received the news that Terence Leong has passed away peacefully. He leaves behind his wife and young children.

At the Port Dickson Triathlon

Terence, as I remember, was a very strong-willed person that despite the cancer diagnosed earlier, has fought on for his rights to live a happy and fulfilling life. He was a joker, an avid blogger and a great friend to be with. I still remember he was one of the first generation bloggers who has given life to sports blogging especially with his unique animations, photo editting, high octane and "no holds barred" reporting. It was because of his contribution to a different form of sports blogging that earned him a place in the coveted PowerBar team.

Terence's last article in his blog

What I will always remember him telling is "I want to do an Ironman before I die. Life is short". Maybe this is the only thing he has left unfulfilled before leaving the world.
To me and many of us, Terence has done more than an Ironman. Many people in his shoes would have given up hope in life. However, Terence soldiered on to do marathons, triathlons and continued living his life to the fullest. He covered his pains with smiles and jokes. He told no one about his sufferings until now, that he has left us all. This is certainly more than an Ironman feat...

Let us all pray that Terence's family be strong in this time of grief.