Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Real British Monarch

I was surprised when I watched a documentary a while ago that the present British monarch is not the legitimate one. That means Queen Elizabeth II is not supposed to be at the throne. Shocking isn't it?

Then who? Apparently it's this guy below. He's Michael Abney-Hastings, 62, a fork-lift truck driver from Jerilderie, NSW, Australia. He is the descendant of Edward IV's brother, George, Duke of Clarence.

I will not bore you with the details but if you Google his name, you will probably find more than what I can tell here. At the end of the documentary, Michael was asked this question: "What if one day the Queen thinks that she has had enough, would you take over her role?"

After a short pause, "King Michael" said with confidence, "No."

After so many years the things we have read, heard and watched, this discovery is really bizarre...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My Birthday

Today marks the penultimate year of me in the late 20s before turning to the big 3. I had it celebrated with a group of friends whom I met in Cambridge. We did Chinese Dim Sum at the Imperial China in Chinatown. It was a nice place to have a special occasion like this.

My special thanks go to Kiki, KY, Joan & Damjan, Eskandar and Winson who made my first birthday in London (2nd in the UK) a memorable one that I will cherish for a long time.

Thank you for all the calls, SMS-es, emails, wall writings in my Facebook, messages in Friendster, e-cards and a video link from Malaysia and the rest of the world. You know who you are and I truly appreciate them.

I particularly like this video link that Poh sent me. It's really cute.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

That's Peace of Cake!

I had been moody these few days because of work; many questions, too little answers. But my mood completely changed after tonight. Here, read on...

The landlady noticed I have been moving in and out of the house without much conversation. She then decided to go to the kitchen tonight while I was cooking and asked about me.

I told her about the frustration of having to do something but not able to do it because of circumstances beyond my control and which I will not disclose in this blog. She was not surprised at all when I told her that. She was explaining to me the English work culture, level of expectations and some of the dos and don't dos in office. She quipped, "You must know how to creep. You know "creep"?"

"Um, you mean, suck up to someone?" I asked without much thought

J-net laughed and said, "Yea, put bluntly."

"That's the last I will do! I will not creep!"

J-net was telling me this whole story about her husband, his work in office etc etc etc. I wasn't interested at all since I already have so much on my plate already. I just didn't want to listen to stories about office anymore. Many friends in the UK and Malaysia said that working in the UK is very relaxed. Now, that's a myth and I debunk that.

It depends on where you end up. For me, I belong to the Strategy and Finance team, so that's quite a workaholic group. People come in as early as 8am and leave as late as 8pm. When I told my friends here, they just couldn't believe it.

That's not what I want to tell.

So J-net coaxed me to more conversation. I wasn't up for it. I just wanted to finish dinner, wash up, get the hell out of the kitchen, up to my room and sleep. But she didn't give up. She kept throwing subjects to talk, making fun and teasing me. She told me she stole my biscuits. I asked her to finish them off instead. I was plain cold with my response. I felt like a spoilt kid. J-net went back to her TV when I finished cooking.

Personally, I do not expect anyone to give a hood or "pamper" me when I'm feeling down. I am alone in this country and there are things I should adapt to. There are things I need to fend for myself. It's not like in Malaysia, I can just call up someone and go out for a drink, or to pasar malam, jogging, swimming or dinner. Here, it's me, myself and I. Besides, who's in Reading??? But I really feel touched when J-net was so caring like a mother to a child.

Not long after, J-net shouted from the living hall and up to the floor, to another housemate and asked if he wants to eat ice-cream. Then she went into the kitchen and asked me the same. I felt completely naughty tonight and tried to give her a hard time. I answered, "Yea, only if you have Ben & Jerry's! Not negotiable." I said with a cheeky smile.

"What?! Ben & Jerry's?"

"Yea, and just that brand only. And I want the one with strawberry." I replied like an idiot not knowing exactly what I want with B&J. B&J's flavours are very unique. They have funny names like, "Chunky Monkey", "Phish Food, "New York Super Fudge Chunk", etc. So, saying something like what I did probably made me looked like a bloody moron.

J-net went away mumbling something I could hardly hear. She probably thought I was being ridiculous. I am sicken with myself too. People gave me an inch, I asked for a yard! But that's what I wanted to do at the time. I just didn't want to be nice anymore.

Almost finishing my dinner, J-net walked in again with a bag. She passed me my Ben & Jerry. She said, "Here you are. Just what you wanted. The one with strawberry. Now be happy. That's Peace of Cake!"

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bring the Ox-on!

This week seems to be Oxford bashing week. Today I have been receiving so many emails from the Cambridge Hare & Hounds in the run up to the Varsity match this Saturday.

I have a few quotes of quotes to share and many more to hide, due to its use of language(read lame):

"Not that I had any special reason for hating school. Strange as it may seem to my readers, I was not unpopular there. I was a modest,good-humoured boy. It is Oxford that has made me insufferable." -Sir MaxBeerbohm (1872-1956), Merton College

"Silicon Valley:the original, south of San Francisco in California.
Silicon Ranch:the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas.
Silicon Gulch:Austin, Texas.
Silicon Swamp:Florida (it's true!, there are many high-tech companies here).
Silicon Vale: our very own version of Silicon Valley, although not quite onthe same scale, west of London and close to Heathrow.
Silicon Glen:in Scotland, being a government `enterprise zone'.
Silicon Fen:around Cambridge using talent from the university.
Silicon Ford:Oxford?"

"(Blackadder thinks Nurse Mary is a German spy)...
CAPTAIN BLACKADDER: And then the final, irrefutable proof. Remember, you mentioned a clever boyfriend...
CAPTAINBLACKADDER : I then leapt on the opportunity to test you. I asked if he'd been to one of the great universities; Oxford, Cambridge, or Hull. You failed to spot that only two of those are great Universities.
GENERAL MELCHETT : That's right! Oxford's a complete dump!"

Sorry Oxons. May the best runners win this weekend!!

Porter Hypothesis put to the test

When I read the heading, "Group warns of climate ‘policy overkill’" in today's FT, I sensed the "Group" was directed at the "business group". For once, something right...

Reading something like "over-zealous government policies to deal with the problems of climate change could drive industrial production overseas and lead to higher carbon emissions overall" reminded me about the Porter Hypothesis. I felt very familiar with the article as it was also something that we have discussed before in Cambridge. Today's article has put the hypothesis to test.

Michael Porter, the guy behind the hypothesis said that "strict environmental regulations can induce efficiency and encourage innovations that help improve commercial competitiveness."

We can pretend that stricter regulations can stimulate innovation but on the other hand, there is also the temptation for businesses to choose the easy way out and move to less regulated countries especially to developing countries that are not only cheaper to operate but will also welcome FDIs with wide open arms. Can it be a matter of time these countries catch up with stricter environmental regulations? Probably. But this "matter of time" is enough for companies to decide if they will continue moving on again or comply.

This again, is attested by another article in the same papers by US Treasury Secretary Paul Hankson who accused the Chinese of "ignoring basic environmental standards in extracting African resources." Many would think that Paul Hankson will be the darling of the African governments for standing up for the rights of the people and the environment. But South Africa's Trade and Industry minister retorted that "US was subjective in its focus on human rights.." while Ugandan President made the following critical remark, "Uganda received $1 per kg of coffee it grew, before the beans were roasted and ground in London and sold for $20. “For each 1kg of coffee, we are donating $19."

At the end of the day, businesses will sum up their activities with bottom line figures. It is an onerous task ahead of Change Agents to move corporate mountains and effect changes, if any, in a well-established system.

Today the business group has fired the first salvo and stamped their disapproval about the climate change policy in the UK. I liken them to saying, "Let's not rock the boat yet, there are no ice sheets melting out there."

Bloggers from the FCO??

I was surprised when I received an email from the Chevening Alumni about bloggers in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. I have just visited David Miliband's (UK's Foreign Secretary) blog and found it particularly funny to one posting when he put up a video of his meeting with the Slovenian Foreign Minister. I am sure BBC or any other news channels here would have been so happy to air that!

I have added a link to the FCO Bloggers. You can find it at "Distinguished Sites".

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I'm through!

I arranged for an appointment with the Home Office three weeks ago and was just able to get my visa done today. I applied for the International Graduate Scheme (IGS). It is a type of visa that allows overseas students who have studied in the UK to work in the country for a year. Many people have asked me questions about the IGS.

(Faint image done intentionally)

Some of them were not found in the FAQ section of the website. I thought it would be helpful to post an article about the IGS on this occasion. I know some of the silent readers of this blog who have just completed their UK degrees may have these burning questions:

How much?
£595 for same day service (apply in person) or
£395 by post (takes longer time)

Work permit or IGS?
Your work permit is tied with the employer but the IGS is not. There's flexibility to switch jobs more easily (and frequently?) with the IGS without the need to make a new work permit. It can take ages doing that! (Read this article from Joan's blog)

The IGS needs a letter of consent from the sponsor (if you've received a scholarship to study in the UK). What should I do? Should I be honest?
Yes, you should! Be very honest! The administrator of your university will most likely grant you consent to get some working experience in the country. Well, at least I could say that for Cambridge. So, don't worry too much about this. After all, it's just a piece of paper away from completing the requirement. Most importantly, be honest!

One year.

What if I want to work longer?
Apply for the work permit with your employer or get the High Skill Migrant Programme (HSMP) visa if you meet the score requirements.

Then why bother with the IGS since I have to get a work permit anyway?
Firstly, it gets you back into the country for work easier, unlike the work permit. And later on, if you decide a year is too much for you (because you're home sick, getting married or just decide not to continue working here), that one year is just nice with the IGS. But if you decide to stay on for the rest of your life (maybe I have exaggerated from say, 5 years), then applying for the work permit while you've already secured a job, earning an income with an employer, and in the country will, I believe, be easier.

Why didn't my employer suggest the IGS then?
The IGS was only introduced in May 2007. That's about 7 months ago. Quite likely this information has not been passed down effectively to the HR. I don't know, I am just guessing. Or another guess would be, because the IGS and work permit probably cost the same. The only difference is that, there's no chain to the leg with the IGS. Get it?

Can I do this in my home country?
Yes, at the British High Commission.


You need to make an appointment to do the IGS if you want the same day service, or you can apply by post. An appointment slot for the same day service may take several weeks from the time you make one. So you need to make sure you get your IGS sorted in time to start work.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Running: Full Swing

I joined a fitness centre two weeks ago and have been training on the treadmill and swimming pool since then. I checked on Runner's World awhile ago to see if I can train up for any upcoming races. I was surprised to find that the Berkshire county, which I now belong, has lined up many races from now until 2008. I have signed up for the ballot for the London Marathon 2008 but am also thinking about other bigger race in other cities like Paris, Berlin, Rome and Barcelona.

In Berkshire alone, there are several high-profile races and a few duathlons. There are:

1. Dorney Lake, Windsor 10k
2. F3 Dorney Lake Duathlon
3. Thames Path Ultra 50 Miles
4. Wokingham Half Marathon
5. Thames Meander 54 Miles
6. Maidenhead Easter Ten
Quintiles Bracknell Half-Marathon
8. Woodley 10k
'Down Tow Up Flow' Thames Towpath Half Marathon

I haven't looked up London yet and I am sure I can unearth plenty there. I can now be very fussy in choosing the right races lest I'll be broke running all of them! I would like to try a Biathlon here though (Swim and Run), before I move on to triathlon. It's been 2 years since my last one. Without any essays or dissertation to chase I can go full swing doing it! Time to get some medals and rev up the Pacemaker medal tally!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Once a Scout, Always a Scout

When John, my immediate superior told me Monday he was organising a campfire on Friday, I asked if he was having a belated Bonfire Night. Obviously he wasn't. He explained that he is the Scout Master for one of the troops in Maidenhead and that he was doing it for a fund raising event for the Scouts.

He asked if I was interested to join him on Friday and continued with his next question, if I was a Scout. I paused to think the answer. Don't know why I did that. I guess I wasn't sure and didn't want to embarass myself if the English Scouts didn't believe in the "Once a Scout, always a Scout" thing, as the Scouts in Malaysia were told after their "retirement". It wasn't a long pause. I told John I WAS one before and emphasised the past tense. He looked surprise and insisted I should join him then.

I accepted his invitation. I'd always wanted to see how the Scouts movement here were run. After all, this is where it all started - in England!

Friday came, lots of work as usual. But we left early for Maidenhead. It was a 19-mile journey and took us an hour with the jam. When we reached the site, we met up with other senior Scouts. We unpacked the cooking utensils, brought out the benches, food and set out the lights. It reminded me so much about those campfire days that I had before in Malaysia, only difference was the weather.
John tasked me to make two pots of soup. Since it was a fund raising event, I have to give in the extra effort to make sure customers come back for more. So they have to be good! After the two pots of soup were done, I was "reassigned" to be in-charge of serving fried onions in the Burger Division. This was my first time mass-producing burgers! Soon, I had the nickname, "Onion Man". John was laughing calling me that. The kids liked it. The other crew in the burger division had their fair share of nicknames; Patty Lady and Bread Crumbs. Onion Man wasn't too bad after all, in comparison.

We proceeded to sit around the campfire. The night was cold, so the campfire was great. We sang many scout songs, learnt different types of claps, watched a sketch and did some silly dance. I felt like a 13-year old boy again! I was so happy being able to relive those experiences of being a Scout again.
After the night was over, I was telling John about some of the common songs that we share in Malaysia. I also introduced him to some other lively songs and claps that we sung and clapped previously. He was extremely surprised by the development of the Scouts movement in Malaysia. He obviously didn't know the Scouts in Malaysia speak in English too! I told him that I felt like a Scout again tonight. Then he struck me with a familiar phrase when he replied, "What do you mean you feel like a Scout again? Once you're a Scout, you're always a Scout!"

Monday, November 05, 2007

Only when they say you are...

J-net, who's my landlady told me on my second day, "I am the best landlady you can ever find in Reading."

I felt that remark was a little cheesy, so I quipped without trying to hurt someone on my second day here, "Actually you will have to let me say that. I am sure I can say that if you really are."

I thought it was funny to self-praise. I've always preferred to be told if I'm good/bad and not have to tell that to someone. Yes, "only when they say you are..."

Today is the 14th day I am staying here and I really think J-net is a nice lady.

She has been fetching me to and from London on weekends, offered to pick me up whenever I do my grocery shopping, offered rooms and bedding for my guests, gave me the largest room in the house without having to pay extra, gave me a TV without extra charges, became a part-time English teacher whenever I ask her about certain words, pronunciation and even the English culture! She even offered me her sherry, wine and chocolates and a dedicated fridge for my own use!

I think I am becoming more pampered staying here, but I am also more disciplined. While she offers almost everything to my convenience, she sets the ground rules pretty strictly too e.g no getting drunk, no smoking, don't open some windows, don't disturb others, don't leave the kitchen dirty, etc. I found these rules easy to follow, probably due to the values that I was brought up with; the Asian values I guess. Sounds like an East meets West kinda thing.

Yesterday I shattered one of her cereal bowls while washing it at the basin. I was awashed with guilt and kept apologising to her. I even offered to buy her a new one. At the first instance when I dropped the bowl, she asked from the living room, "Is that yours or mine?"

I said, "It's your. I am so sorry!!"

"Alright, don't bother about it. I break things too. I just asked if it's yours, I can offer you another one."

I told her, "I'll get you a new one I promise."

"You don't have to buy me a replacement. You need to break a few more to make your trip to Ikea worth it!"

I felt really bad and she was so kind! She tried to break the silence of my guilt, so she joked, "Saves you from washing a bowl now!" I laughed. She really tickled me.

This evening after coming back from work, J-net asked if I have a DVD player. So I told her I can play DVDs on my laptop.

"Have you watched Blood Diamond?" she asked






So, she passed me all of the DVDs including a few more she presumed I would not have watched them yet. She was right.

She said, "You should really give yourself a break and fill your mind with some useless things, like watching a movie." She also gave me a new book with 300 Sudoku puzzles to solve!


"You looked stressed and not yourself these few days!" She was probably referring to the bowl incident.

J-net said, "Is everything alright? You look fed up."

I guess I was in denial. I was really stressed with so much to learn at work and things to do. But I was not fed up for sure. I am happy to be learning so much things at work.

"Fed up? Sure not. I am fine, am just a little tired from work."

"You sure you're alright?"

"Yea, I'll be fine."

Then I thought again if I should subscribe to believing that I am really alright or the "only when they say you are..."

Past and Present

Went to Cambridge this week to get Ms Pinky, my old faithful bicycle. Couldn't bear walking 20 minutes to work and another 20minutes from work anymore. Also met up with the past and present year ESD student. Oh well, I am one of the past students now.
Photo taken with Farouk and Jin Hooi

Jin Hooi, who's 2005/2006's ESD student, returned this year to do his PhD. Farouk is this year's newcomer of the ESD MPhil programme. I was surprised to hear from him that there are 43 students and he's the only one from South East Asia. It's nice to know someone doing the same programme as me.

It's "Quacking" Delicious!

Duck sells in London, especially the roasted ones. I found this quite unusual in Chinatown and Bayswater. People just like the roasted ducks here. There are many restaurants selling roasted ducks which I haven't explored in Chinatown, Paddington and the lesser known part of Edgware Road. The two famous ones in Bayswater are Four Seasons and Gold Mine. The queues are just crazy at any time of the day and night.

The queues at Gold Mine and Four Seasons are just unbelievable

In Malaysia, roasted chicken and pork are commonplace. Probably, we don't roast duck as tasty as the ones done by the Chinese and Hong Kong people. I started doing duck rice hopping over several other restaurants and rating them "strictly" since last year. I hope to come out with the ranking by the end of this year.

Quacking feast with Winson and the Thames Water related crew at Gold Mine. Met two new Malaysians, seated far right.

Christmas season begins

I was in London again this week and saw Harrods "snowing". They had the snow making machine that "snowed" from top. It was an odd sight to begin with because the "snow" was localised only to the building.

As my landlady drove nearer to the building, we realised it wasn't "snow" but foam. Nevertheless, I found it exciting that Christmas is just around the corner.

Another shot taken at Whiteleys, London's Bayswater.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

London at Random

The latest activities that I did in London last week were so random, I might as well show the pictures only. They require less explanations:

Top to bottom: CT, Winson and me

Went to swing some balls at a driving range in Chiswick at the expense of our investment banker friend, CT. Winson and CT had formal golf training, so they were very good. My uncoached skills came from Kampung Bukit Jalil (probably Bukit Jalil now??), so I am completely crap. I was flabbergasted when I saw the balls that I hit took off with 7 and 5 irons after a long hiatus from practice. They even flew with a 3-wood! They used to roll only. So, that's improvement!

Then we proceeded for dim sum at Baker Street, with 7 other Malaysians. Two came for work. What a coincidence. Somehow, the dim sums tasted different from the ones in Malaysia. May I be rude to say that the common types were actually better than back home. We realised they were from Hong Kong.

A cute thing I found in CT's car. It immediately reminded me of Shirley. I thought this photo may put a smile on her when she sees it. I reckon this dumbo looked abit "older" than her's.

Love-shaped strawberry? Almost half the size of my palm?? That's really bizarre!

Met up with Dominic for dinner. Dom was one of our course mates in Cambridge.

Then we did the pumpkin thing for Halloween. There was a pumpkin carving competition. We didn't win but I thought we could have won in the "most blemished" pumpkin carving category if they had one.