Monday, January 28, 2008

Broken Sleep

My sleep was broken at 2am when my Malaysian phone rang this morning. It was a Malaysian number as well. I wouldn't usually get a call at this hour especially from people who know me.

There were only three possibilities; an emergency, a prank call or a wrong number. It was none of them this time.

"Hello? Is this Mr Yap?"

"Yea." I answered as if I was really awake.

"Hi I am Philip. Someone recommended me to call you. I'm currently recruiting for a Japanese firm for a project in Singapore. Heard of Kougyou-no-Kaisha (not the real name)?"

Still controlling myself from blurting out profanities, I mustered all my energy to sound really enthusiastic and erm..polite, "Oh yea, of course." I am glad I was conscious enough and not ask where the heck was Singapore!

"Can I get you to come for an interview?"

"Sorry, but I am already working in the UK."

"Oh..that means you're in the UK now?"

"Yes, and it's 2am now"

I guess this bloke had no sense of time or an idea of 2am so he continued, "Oh..2am..ermm..but would you be interested to explore the option of working in Singapore? We can negotiate."

I would have thought he'd give up and bid goodbye when I told him I've already gotten a job. He was persistent and then continued, "What if we can do a phone interview? If we're happy with it, we can fly you over here to discuss further.."

At this point, I was really crossed. I breathed a loud sigh over the phone and said, "Look, it's 2am now. That's two hours after midnight, not noon. I would appreciate it if we can discuss this 5 hours from now. I can call you if you want."

I had no qualms for sounding out rude. I guess he finally obliged.

After hanging up the call, my unconscious mind suddenly screamed out a word which I haven't used for a long long time..."Really CELAKA!!!"

Competitive Blunder??

I was watching news online that Malaysia was ranked 6th in the world as the most efficient government in 2007, beating countries like the UK, Japan and Germany.

Our PM announced that the findings were based on the reputed Switzerland-based IMD Competitiveness Yearbook. I did a check in IMD afterwards and found that we were neither 6th in 2007 nor 8th the year before. We were 22nd in 2007 and 23rd in 2006.

I think our PM misread our position with Switzerland's. This is quite an embarrassing blunder for a PM. He's probably still suffering from the jetlag from his recent trip to Davos....ermm, that's in Switzerland right; or Malaysia?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Birmingham and more...

Birmingham High Street

I went to Birmingham yesterday for a day trip. Birmingham is not a big city and can be summed up in a day. Less if you're not a shopaholic. I noticed the cost of living there is much cheaper than Reading or London. Take for example a punnet of strawberries would usually cost £2 in both places. It costs only £1 in Birmingham.

50p for two brocs??!! I used to pay £1.38 for one!

Birmingham is strange. I felt like I was in a foreign country than another city in England. The city has a huge community of Indians and Middle Eastern nationals. I think Eastern Europeans are slowly coming in as well. I noticed this when they spoke or I may be wrong. Maybe they were speaking a Birmingham accent (if there's one).

In the centre of Birmingham, is a market square and shopping complex called the Bull Ring. The Bull Ring area has been part of Birmingham's centre of trade for over 800 years. Previously it was just old streets. It was only in 2000 that the shopping complex was built and 2003, fully opened to the public. So, this is a fairly young city as compared to other cities around England.
The centrepiece of Bull Ring is the Selfridge building which was designed without windows. To make this odd design interesting, the architect of the building decided to clad the entire building with 15,000 pieces of aluminium disc. You either like it or you don't. Some people think it's hideous. But I think it's quite a stunning design.

The Bull Ring shopping complex; day and night scene

The old and new side by side

World Famous Rag Market??

The hifalutin Bull Ring shopping complex

Another piece of interesting story that I learnt is that Birmingham was the first place to have erected the Nelson statue in 1809, and not in London's Trafalgar Square where the present Nelson statue and column stand. I know some of you may ask, "So what if Birmingham is the first? Big deal!" But to the locals here, it is a sense of pride and certainly have a historical attachment to the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

My trip to Birmingham will always remind me of several bizarre incidents from the time I left to the time I came back.

Going there...
There were no travel information about where to wait for the bus. Apparently it was a new bus route. So I ended up playing investigator at the station. I am glad I met another person going to Birmingham with the same bus. There were just two of us! It's really weird.

During lunch...
I ordered a Mega-Size Middle Eastern meal deal. It was huge and I didn't finish it. So I asked the waitress to pack the leftover into a disposable container. She took the plate and dumped everything into the black bin instead...
The lunch that almost didn't happen

At the market...
I bought a punnet of plum and asked the seller if they've been washed because I wanted to eat them right away. She replied, "I don't know but you'll know after eating it."

At the market Part 2...
At the last minute, everything was going at half price at only 50p. I saw a basket of tomatoes which I wanted to get. It was the last basket around so I asked for it. Another customer hurriedly asked for the same thing. I obliged and walked away. Five minutes after, the same customer approached me from nowhere. "Here, take the tomatoes. I thought you wanted them. It's too heavy for me to carry them."
These tomatoes look great, don't they?

On the way home...
The bus driver was blasting his favourite Bollywood songs towards the last leg of the journey. It was so loud as if a car was honking in front! The worst thing was, the speakers were cracking!

Grocery shopping at Tesco...
A store wide blackout occurred. All customers were evacuated from the building and I've only spent 3 minutes there!
Shopping in the dark

At the train station back to Reading...
It was an unusual night. Just too quiet. I imagined it to be a scene from Stephen King's horror movie; deserted train station all by myself. It's weird because it was supposed to be a busy station where people change here to go to Heathrow Airport. I asked a station warden standing nearby. He said, "There was a big fight earlier. The police came in 5 vans; about 15 of them were deployed to load twenty troublemakers into the van. The train windows had blood.'d have thought this train just came from hell."
Deserted train station. Photo taken from other sites.

It's just strange so many bizarre events happened in a day. Oh well, at least they have put colours into my Birmingham visit which would otherwise be a dull one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Training in Wallingford

Wallingford Manor House

I had a two-day work-related training in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. It's about 27km away from the office.
Gothic architecture building

The training venue was an exciting one. It was located in a Manor House, where King Henry VIII was believed to frolic there with one of his wives. It didn't look like a training centre at all.

Impressive floor tile design

Huge green space, meandering River Thames, a massive horse stable and a 250-year old house all in one location. I would have thought it was a museum at first impression.

Panorama view of training room

The funny thing is that even the staff acknowledged the place is more interesting than the trainings they provide. They found themselves doubling up as tour guides whenever there are group trainings held there. Just like yesterday, we had a tour of the area during lunch.

I felt like I was having a holiday instead of training. If only all trainings can be like this.

A courtesy tour of the area by the staff

This brought to mind the Bok House, or commonly known as the Le Coq D'or, historical building in Kuala Lumpur that was demolished recently with much protest.

Regardless of whether we have the funds to maintain our dilapidated historical sites, this Wallingford example is a good one to show that clever solutions can make regeneration programmes happen. It does not necessarily need to be costly. Obviously, the option to demolish is the easiest one and a choice route usually taken by a wuss.
The Bok House - now you see it...

now you don't...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Two Discoveries and One Farewell

I was in London today for sanity check. Just joking.

Nik Rahini's farewell lunch

Yo! Sushi

Met up with the ex-Chevening scholar, Nik Rahini for lunch in London before she returns to Malaysia for good. We had our lunch in Yo! Sushi in Harrods. It was my first time eating in Yo! and there's really nothing to shout about in terms of variety, taste, presentation, portion and authenticity. Perhaps the only things I can think about Yo! representing anything Japanese were the conveyor belt, Kikkoman soy sauce, pickled ginger, disposable chopsticks and self-service water tap which I unknowingly paid 1 quid for a glass of water! Don't make the same mistake as I have! If I can ever put a point to Yo!, I'd give it 2 out of 10. 1 for location, and the other for Kikkoman. Maybe a bonus point out of respect for Nik's farewell! Haha! Sorry for being so mean..I think unless you really have to down a plate of sashimi or California Roll, avoid Yo! at all cost.

Nik Rahini with Kak Pa and Sharifah

Further inside Harrods is the more expensive and authentic Japanese cuisine. Harrods even imported all the staff at the counter from Japan! Even waitresses! They must be really serious! I checked the menu and took a quick glance at the right column for price...unsurprisingly expensive. Oh well, that's the sort of price one would expect from Harrods anyway...

The better Japanese cuisine inside Harrods. Served by Japanese chefs.

As I thought, a simple plate of salmon sashimi for example, cost 8 quid, 2.5 times the price in Yo! No wonder...but that's exactly the type of quality, variety and authenticity that Japanese food lovers should be expecting or would normally get in Japan. Anyway...

I have discovered the "Low Yat" equivalent for London in Tottenham Court Road. Like Low Yat, this place is the mecca for computer and electronics for shoppers and bargain hunters. If Low Yat is housed in a multi-storey fully air-conditioned building, the shops in TCR is like putting all the shops in Low Yat onto high-street shopping, that's what you'll get....
Imagine stripping out all the shops in Low Yat and putting them on the high-street

The second thing I discovered today is Oriental City, the place to do Chinese grocery shopping and get great Asian food, all under one roof. It's not a place where everyone would be familiar with. In fact it's located in London's Zone 4 on the Northern Line. The nearest tube station is Colindale but even that is a 12-minute walk to the place. I went for dinner there with Bettina and Winson.
Dinner at Oriental City with Winson and Bettina

We were surprised by the variety of foodstuff available in OC; Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Malaysian, you name it.
Chinese grocer, Oriental City, with huge floor space like Tesco

Japanese top-grade rice is also found here! Imagine my excitement when I saw Koshihikari. It reminded me of what I did with the rice when I was in Japan

There's no need to craze for Maggi Mee and Milo...I can get them here as well! Just a little more expensive...ermm, alot more actually...

The food court itself is an attraction. Just like the grocer, the food court serves Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Malaysian food. I also noticed they have Singaporean, Taiwanese and Vietnamese food.

Clockwise from top-left: Fried Carrot Cake, Nasi Briyani with Rendang Daging and Char Kuay Teow

This place is like a hidden gem, far from the knowledge of many people. However the massive turnout at the food court tells another story. It seemed like it's serving a huge population of Asian community who've been here for a very long time and who want to stay away from the areas commonly known to tourists. I felt like I was in Malaysia or Singapore! Even the sight of "mat salleh" was rare.

After this evening, I'd probably think that anyone who tells me that good Asian food can only be found in Chinatown or Bayswater, is probably either a tourist in London or still unaware of Oriental City.

But I prefer to keep mum about their recommendation, probably nod my head when told about Bays and Chinatown, and not mention anything about OC to anyone, except to good friends! Call it Kiasu or selfish, I'm happy for it to stay unnoticed because I can't imagine the volume of tourist in Chinatown or Bayswater flocking over to this foodcourt. It is already bursting to its seams during peak hours, as we noticed.
Foodcourt bursting at its seams during dinner peak hour

Then again, what an idiot am I to blog this out...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Political Satire

After 12 hours of seeing it, I still find the cartoon in The Times today ticklish. It was really funny when they made fun of Hillary Clinton about how she won in the New Hampshire primary. It was quite clever of Peter Brookes, the cartoonist, to fit that into a UK political satire.