Monday, November 16, 2009

Marmite Lover

Marmite - "love it or hate it". That's how Marmite brand themselves. I am a Marmite lover.

Yesterday I found a Marmite store at the southern end of Regent Street (or nearby Piccadilly Circus). I was really excited by it. I mean, a store dedicated for a vegetable spread brand smack in the heart of London?? That must be really expensive! It's like having a store for sambal belacan lovers next to KLCC's Zara.

Marmite store by Regent Street

I walked into the store and looked around. There were lots of Marmite merchandise and the spread itself in different sizes. A book caught my attention - "Marmite Tips".

Interesting tips

I browsed through the pages and found a few interesting tips. However, there was a silly one; "...Marmite will aid recovery from a hangover". They certainly got the right target audience in this country!

There were two floors in the store. At the upper floor, I was greeted by a lady who asked, "Are you a lover or a hater?" I told her that I am a lover. She smiled and offered me a "Marmite Lover" sticker. I guess that means I am now an "official member" of the Marmite club.

I told her that I grew up eating Marmite in rice porridge and hard-boiled salted duck eggs. In Britain, rice porridge is easily misunderstood as rice pudding, a type of dessert. So I explained to her the difference. She asked if it was sweet; then if it was like oat porridge. I told her it's basically someone crazy who is trying to cook rice with eight times the amount of water normally used. She got it immediately.

I have yet to try it on toast though. I never bothered. The thought of it sounded disgusting. I guess it's like slapping tar on bread.

I have a small bottle of Marmite at home that was finishing. The shop reminded me that I had to replenish supply. So I bought a big one this time - a 500g jar. There's now a Marmite and its mini-me in the kitchen cabinet.
Marmite and mini-me

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A meaningful top prize win

I was woken up at 4am yesterday by a call from Malaysia. The lady on the other line was from the Standards Agency. She announced that I have won the top prize in a national essay competition held in conjunction with the World Standards Day.

I've checked my CV awhile ago. This marks the fourth time that I've won the top prize in essay competitions. However, this is not the fourth essay that I've written. I've written in many essay competitions. Sometimes I win, many times I don't.

Many in FB have congratulated me and I thank you for that.

The prize money is especially meaningful to me this time.

Coming from the older generation, my grandmother doesn't have an insurance policy to support her health care. When she was ill two months ago , she needed to go to the hospital and needed a lot of money for the operation. The cost of the operation was shared equally by her three daughters. My mom was one of them. Being retired and living only on savings, my mom asked for help from my brother and I.

We did the logical thing as anyone would imagine. So we chipped in. The planned Taiwan trip, wedding angpaos and multiple events that I have arranged in Malaysia have set me back on my finances. So my cashflow was a little tight at the time.

But I had to do my best to help out the family nonetheless. After all, I've been working in the UK, so I do not hold much cash reserves in Malaysia. Somehow by God's providence and a modicum of luck I managed to get the cash out for my share.

After the incident I've been praying for my grandmother. I'm always worried that we will lose her one day. At her age, it's something that will come one day but it's not something that I want to think about too much. I think she prayed for us too.

But God works in mysterious ways. I found out that the winning money for the essay competition is the same as what I've paid for her bill. Not a penny more, not a penny less and I praise God for that!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Christmas Lights in London

Photos taken from Oxford Street and Regent Street. It's dark already at 5pm.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Paintball and the lesson on war

The six of us braved the heavy rain this morning to Hemel Hempstead and joined force with twenty others for a paintball shootout against thirty others from the enemy side.

Our team

Members of our team include young children. Military gear provided.

Paintballing is basically shooting at each other with paintballs in military fashion. Had I been in a real war today, my neck, right arm, two fingers and the right leg would have been blown apart. That's right, these were the places I took the "bullets" from. I came home with mosquito-bite soreness and red spots on the neck, arm and leg. Two of my fingers bled a little on impact with the paintball. Nothing too serious otherwise.


I never had such an exhilarating fun for a while, where I had to run and hide like a kid. We hated the rain but later felt it made the "war" more exciting. The terrain was slippery and thus, more difficult to overcome.

The itinerary consisted of 12 games. We fought off our enemies until everyone was annihilated. Annihilation in the paintballing context means everyone in the team is shot.

Paintballing requires a lot of body movement, strategy and teamwork. These sounded like serious stuff for a Sunday morning but it was equally entertaining. One of the funny moments I could remember was in a game to protect the leader in our team. While defending our fort, a member in my team had several clean shots at an enemy but the enemy refused to die. Frustrated by the enemy's immortality, he shouted to the marshall, "Marshall! I've hit that lad like a million times on the shoulder and he's refused to die! Get him out! Get him out!"

In the midst of the hail of bullets exchanging between the enemy and us, the enemy surrendered. The man beside me shouted "What took you so long to die?!" Then he fired a cold-blooded parting shot at him.

Long story short, we won the game by a huge margin. On the way back to London we shared our experiences. There were important lessons to be learnt from an innocent game like paintballing.

It made me feel blessed that I am not living in a war-torn country. It made me appreciate that the pain I encountered today is artificial. I paused for a moment to think about the troops who have to take these for real and with live bullets. The outcome would be so much more different. I've learnt that in a war, no matter who's right or wrong, innocent lives will be sacrificed. I have learnt that for every troop who is still alive now could be at the expense of another troop's life who protected him. I have learnt the practical meaning of "curiosity kills the cat". I have learnt the importance of being calm in adversity. When our enemy was raining bullets on us, we stayed calm and assessed the situation before closing in on them. I learnt that in a war, there's no such a thing as a winner takes all. There will always be losses of innocent lives no matter who wins in the end. I learnt that no matter how hopeless a negotiation has turned, no one should ever go into war.