Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas and New Year in KL

Happy 2010!!

I remember the first year when I was in the UK, Christmas was cold, quiet and lonely. But it was also fun and interesting. It was the first time I benefited from charity. Foreign students who had no where to go during Christmas were invited to attend a Christmas party in a church. I also remember how I celebrated Christmas Eve in London with other Malaysians as they too were away from home.

Three years have gone and past just like that. This year I decided to return for Christmas and New Year. I was very happy to be back with family, friends, warm weather and all the delicious food. The miserable weather in London that delayed my flight home for 7 hours further convinced me that I've made the right decision.

Dinner with family and relatives

Christmas was celebrated in church. Jenn, my ex-housemate in London visited KL for Christmas. Irene was with us. All of us went to church as Jenn wanted to experience how Christmas was celebrated in Malaysia.
Christmas in Church

The Christmas decorations in KL were not bad. Colourful and generous. In London, most of the decorations were out on the high streets for shoppers to enjoy when they shop. However in KL these were housed in the shopping mall because Malaysians do their shopping in the malls.
Decorations in Pavilion

Decorations in KLCC

We went to Melaka the following day which proved to be a silly idea because on a public holiday everyone else was going out. We were stranded on the road for hours. Armed with a GPS, we used it to guide us through the trunk roads and onto Seremban. We took the opportunity for an eating spree. We brought Jenn to eat the Seremban siew pau, hakka mee, beef noodles and a variety of tropical fruits. I am more fluent with the history of Malaya now than in 2007 when my Cambridge friends came. So tour guiding Jenn this time was much easier. I guess I would never have known and appreciated Malaysia's history so much more than I had to narrate it to my friends.
Melaka with Jenn and Irene

Good old friend Raymond was also back from HK. So it was really nice to catch up with him after our last meeting in Taiwan.
Catching up with good old friend Dr Ray over Japanese in KLCC

This time I was also back for a wedding dinner as my Singaporean colleague was marrying his Malaysian partner. Winson who's back for good also attended the wedding. So all three of us who were once from the same office in London managed to catch up in KL!
Colleague's wedding

New Year's Eve was celebrated in Charmine's condominium, a vantage point overlooking The Curve and Tropicana which the fireworks in PJ took place. We had a potluck. She invited other colleagues whom I still keep in touch with. We were like a family and still are. In fact, my godson was also there! It's a delight to see him grow to this cute little thing now!

I made my own recipe salad which I discovered while experimenting with food in the UK. I guess after staying abroad for a while, you tend to try new things and be more adventurous with food. I made them a salad with wild rockets, hearts of romaine, prawns, hard-boiled eggs, seedless red grapes, cherry tomatoes, sea salt, ground pepper, extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice. This was somewhat inspired by Jamie Oliver's wild rocket salad, only that I tore everything apart and reinvented my own to suit with local ingredients. Still it was a good way to deliver some sort of a taste of "life in the UK"; all summed up in a bowl. Wild rockets have a unique taste and sometimes bitter, so that's quite a good summing up of life in the UK.

After a good night out on new year's eve, we reached home at 2am. One would expect us to wake up late the next morning, right? No. Instead, we went for a run. It was the Pacemaker Network Run 2010, a run I signed up for two months ago. The lack of sleep, Christmas, tour guiding and new year eve's countdown took a toll on training and performance. The four-loop run which came with a series of steps sounded the death knell for the exhausted body. My 12.2k time was 1 hr 4mins and 39secs. Not sure if it was good but I knew I could do better than that given the right conditions. Oh well...

Run in Lake Garden, KL

The torturous part in Network Run 2010

So we're in 2010 now. Some people say the ushering of the new year is overrated. Some say the new year is just another number. Whether or not it is a number or a commercialised event, every New Year to me is a milestone of life. It is marked by the successes and failures of the past 365 days; and how we can now make use of those experiences to tackle the next 365 days. All the best in 2010!

**Post New Year's Day note: I've finally gotten myself a Christmas present. The Asics Gel Nimbus 11.**
Running Shoes for 2010

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I was in Budapest three weeks ago and was enthralled by the stunning views and spectacular scenes of the city. The autumn colours were amazing!

Autumn in Budapest

This McD's is classic!

Budapest is a city that comes from two banks of the river Danube - Buda and Pest. You can probably read more about Budapest elsewhere.
Liberation Monument

Vajdahunyad Castle

Heroes' Square

Anyway, we spent a lot of time doing very few things. Budapest is not about packing as much as you can. Talk to a Malaysian about traveling to Europe and you'll know what I mean. First timers to Europe tend to go for travel packages like "10 cities in 12 days"- quantity rather than quality. It's a luxury to travel to Europe for many. However you can't do that in Budapest. In fact you can't do that in any European cities for that matter. There are things that need time to appreciate. Just like the public bath which Budapest is known for. No one gets into a public bath as quickly as a bored Malaysian going into the National Gallery in London for the sake of telling his mates that he's been there and done that. In a public bath you need at least two hours. That's what we've done. We went to Szechenyi and took two hours to enjoy the outdoor thermal pool just by doing nothing. We sat there and let the water fountain hit our shoulders and back. It was therapeutic, especially against the ambiance temperature of 3 deg C. The water was 35 deg C. The public baths in Budapest weren't like the onsens in Japan where bathers were required to go nude. Everyone was required to wear something. Well, I heard they do have onsen-type ones as well.
Szechenyi public bath

Hungary had a tragic past like Poland during the second world war. It was the first country that resisted the deportation of Jews to Poland during the Holocaust. Many Jews fled to this country for asylum. This provoked the German Nazis to invade them. In the end, Hungary accounted for the highest number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. About 450,000 of them were forced out of the country and killed.

The Jews were killed in cold blood. The photo below must have been the moment before the Jews fell to their death. Standing by the bank I was already frightened to death of falling head down. But that was how the Jews fell to their death. They didn't need to be shot.
Memorial site - spot where the Jews fell to their death

The resistance of the past now bears a passing resemblance of the tenacity and steadfastness of Hungarians. Hungary, along with Bulgaria and half of Russia, represents a large number of sumo wrestlers from Europe. Hungary is more than a sumo-wrestling country. It is for sports lovers. In the time we were in Budapest, there were many blue and green patches shown in the city map. These were swimming pools and playing fields.

Chain Bridge

The apartment owner asked if I've brought a pair of running shoes, as he recommended me to run in Margaret Island, a pedestrianised recreational island in the middle of the Danube River. The island is well known among avid runners. The island has a track and field stadium, tennis courts, Olympic-size outdoor and indoor swimming pools. At 2 deg C, we saw people attending swimming classes in the outdoor pool!
Fisherman's Bastion

I can see why the locals are active in sports here. Margaret Island alone, was an inspiration to indulge in an activity. There's just so much energy here. When you see other people doing something, you want to do it too! And I can see myself doing a race here one day.
Running in Margaret Island

Budapest is cheap. We can do a lot for much lesser than other European countries; just like Krakow. For example we attended an opera for only 400 Forint. That's only £1.40 or RM7.50 for a 3-hour seating. I don't remember paying anything less than £2 for entertainment either in Malaysia or UK. So Budapest was definitely cheap.
Opera House

Another delightful part of the trip was meeting up with Sue-Anne, another Malaysian whom I met through Chevening back in 2006. I've met her in London, Madrid and Budapest. All but except Malaysia. We've never been able to meet up in Malaysia despite several attempts when I was in KL. Thanks to her she brought us to a posh French restaurant in nearby Opera for lunch. That was the first time I had foie gras and it was absolutely delicious despite all the bad publicity about it. Well, I guess it's just like the Chinese and shark's fin soup.
Lunch with Sue-Anne

The lunch came out to be very affordable by London's standard. It was certainly going for a song considering it was of high quality. So Irene and I did it again in the evening but we went for Hungarian cuisine. We tried their famous local delicacies like goose liver and Tokaji wine. I just found out Hungary is the biggest producer of goose liver in the world!
Second dining

Budapest is also known for its Christmas Market. We had plenty of mulled wine and tried their local food for two days. Interesting to find how different and similar their food can be compared to other countries. That's why traveling is always an enriching experience.
Christmas Market in Vorosmarty Ter

My opinion of Budapest comes with a few contradictions. But they are not necessarily bad. They are traditional, yet modern; old-fashion yet creative; appeared poor yet classy; looked posh yet plain; faces of people looked stern yet friendly, architecture of buildings looked simple yet elegant; serious designs yet funny; pretentious yet original. It's just something mystical about the city which makes it special. Ever tried saying, "Pretty girl, you're ugly." Know what I mean?
Serious yet funny

Posh yet plain

Road as straight as the eye can see

Pretentious yet original

Traditional yet modern

Simple yet elegant

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

London with Air Asia X- Part 2

Recently I wrote about my experience flying with Air Asia X from London.

I have informed (Datuk Seri) Tony Fernandes, CEO of the airline Group about my article, who then forwarded to Azran Osman Rani, CEO of Air Asia X. Yes, it's a big loop around. That's because I was not introduced to Azran when I met Tony in London. But I am glad Azran took time to respond to my article.

I received a feedback from Azran and thought it's only fair that anyone who has read my review, to read the response by the airline boss as well (with permission):

Dear Alden,

Thank you for referring your blog article to us. Really appreciate the honest review.

Some points:

On the price of the food - please note that on long-haul flights, we must, as required by quarantine rules, source our food from the UK, for the London-KL portion. We cannot carry meals from KL. As such, the pricing is based on UK catering suppliers - inevitably they are much more expensive than from KL - and unfortunately, we cannot have full control of the food quality, as it is produced in bulk by the UK caterer. Airline food costs are also more than the price of food in a restaurant, because there are extra handling costs, including security scanning, Customs/Quarantine checks, and uploading to the aircraft.

That's why we have to resort to differentiated pricing. Otherwise, if we average out the cost, someone flying to Hong Kong will have to pay a lot more to subsidize the cost of someone buying a meal from London-KL.

We also know our product is not as comparable in quality as Emirates and MAS. We're here to create a different product to tailor for a more affordable price point. Your points on price comparison on the blog is valid, but I'd like to add that, before AirAsia X was introduced, you'd be hard-pressed to get fares on MAS at 500 pounds and on Emirates at 400 pounds. The big boys starting dumping fares only in response to our entry. Without us, customers will have less choice and MAS will undoubtedly increase their fares again. We're determined to stay - they can't keep dumping fares indefinitely because they've been suffering significant losses this year.

Kind regards,

Azran Osman-Rani
Chief Executive Officer

My Line : (603) XXX XXX
My Fax : (603) XXXX XXXX
My Mobile: (60) 12 XXX XXXX

Contact details were omitted to protect his privacy.

Monday, December 07, 2009

November update

I haven't updated my blog for a long time. Whenever I had the inspiration to write, I passed on that energy to writing up my professional reports instead. I've been extremely busy in the three weeks leading up to this week since I last updated the blog. Just this morning at 2am, after so many weekends, I finished writing an experience report and fifteen development objectives of how I have become a competent engineer. All this accomplished in between the workload from the office. Now the reports would be reviewed by a delegated engineer in the company. Once finalised, the reports would be formally submitted to the Institution of Civil Engineer for a career appraisal. This means I have to satisfy the ICE that I'm ready and "matured" to be a Chartered Engineer before I could make a formal submission. It's more difficult than I expected.

It wasn't easy consolidating 7 years of work experience into a few pages of report. I've written too much for an experience report. At 25 pages, I still think I haven't finished writing but there has been pressure to compress everything into 2000 words. That's effectively 5 pages!

But many things have happened in between. I celebrated my birthday with a few close friends. Less is more. Thanks to Irene who planned her trip around to coincide with my birthday. I am also grateful to those who came for dinner and the musical. And thank you everyone who called, texted, emailed and left messages in my facebook on my birthday.

One and a half duck for five of us

Second time seeing Les Miserables

Before that was a visit by Nik Rahini et al, who stopped over and took a break here from her European tour. We caught up over dinner and a play called Stomp which was absolutely brilliant. Thanks for organising that, Nik!
Dinner with Nik et al

I was involved in a bid submission for work in the O which literally sapped me off my energy, mood and everything that the world is made of. I was working late hours for the past three weeks. Malaysians wouldn't believe I had to work late hours here and return to work before 8am the next day. This continued for two weeks. I am really knackered. The last time I did any meaningful exercise was three weeks ago and that was when I ran 5km on the treadmill.

But in the midst of all these madness, I made a trip to Budapest with Irene over a weekend. It was planned months ahead. I was hesitating to go because of the workload but was glad I went as it was a good antidote to the stress I was living with in the office. The following weekend we went to Oxford.

In London, I told myself that I wouldn't need to care about my visitors as long as they can speak English. The truth is, I do worry once in a while; if they would be cheated, know where to visit, how to get there, how to save some money, have enough cash to spend and what and where to go for dinner? Because I also want to share some tips about London since I'm a lot "smarter" going about doing things in this country than in the past 3.5 years.

Pots of lontong and trays of satay by Noris

Hari Raya Haji at Noris'

Hari Raya Haji was in November too. Noris hosted a dinner for us and some friends at his place. It all felt like a real Hari Raya because we had rendang, lontong, ketupat, satay and lots of desserts. The guests were dressed up for the occasion too. Most of them in traditional Malay costumes. Thank you Noris for making us feel so much at home!

I did some Christmas shopping for Irene to bring home to my family. I'm glad I am not the type who would buy on impulse. That is why I still haven't finished buying presents for everyone. But that's fine, I give presents to people whenever I go home, even without Christmas! So if you didn't get a present from me this time, it's because you've got one in my recent trip back!
And if you haven't received a present from me the last time and this, that's because you haven't been a good person the whole year and Santa knows!;)