Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Where exactly is London and Kuala Lumpur?

I've always been wondering where exactly is London?

When we say the distance between London and Edinburgh is 535km, where exactly in London is that measured from?

I found the answer two years ago from a chanced discussion with another Engineer but decided to write about it now because I have found the physical reference point.

In London, the point of reference is nearby Trafalgar Square where the statue of King Charles I now stands. A plaque can be found on the floor behind the statue stating that mileage distances on road signage are still measured from this point. Why is it there, you can find out here.

Statue of King Charles I

Location of plague behind statue

The plague written with "..on the site now occupied by the statue of King Charles I was erected the original Queen Eleanor's Cross a replica of which stands in front of Charing Cross Station. Mileages from London are measured from the site of the original cross. "

There you go, another interesting find in London!

What about Kuala Lumpur? I've also Googled the same for Kuala Lumpur. Apparently, no answer was found.

Fortunately, I knew the answer. Back in 2005 when I was a Highway Engineer in Malaysia, I was once asked the same question about KL when I gave a presentation to UK's Institution of Highway & Transportation. The answer was the main Post Office in Kuala Lumpur.

I know this is silly but if the distance between London and Kuala Lumpur can be measured based on the two references, it is 6,553 miles or 10,554km.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sustainable mobility in KL

The answer to resolving congestion is not by having more lanes. Congestion must be tackled by taking vehicles off the road; not to accommodate more of more.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Classical organ

The RC Church I attend plays the hymns from a CD-player. It’s beyond solemn by Malaysian standards. Last year the parish priest thanked a parishioner for playing the organ. He was a visiting organist and hasn’t been seen since then. The priest lamented how he wished an organist could play for the Church every week.That was nine months ago.

One evening after a good chat with Fiona, we decided to do something for the Church. I think it was a conversation about “being thankful”. Fiona is a pianist and she plays the guitar too. So I suggested we show our “gratefulness” by playing for the Church. She didn’t take long to agree. It was such that I play the organ, she plays the guitar.

Call it coincidence or miracle or blessing or providence...whatever, a gentleman approached us one Sunday after mass and asked if he could join us to play the guitar. It was quite random, yet coincidental.

Last Sunday, for the first time we played in Church. Amy who came to support, was given a last minute role to handle the maraca. We formed a band of four at the 11th hour, quite literally, and played four songs.

It was a memorable day for me - an achievement to say the least. Not because I've overcome the inaugural performance jittery or that it was the first day of CNY, but also because many parishioners thanked us afterward for playing the instruments. The priest also thanked us in front of the congregation and personally afterward. I felt extremely humbled by this gesture. I didn't feel I did much. I've only played the organ.

Many thanks to Fiona, Amy and Nathaniel.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Eastern Europe has never failed to mesmerise. That is why when I booked the flight to Prague two months ago, I knew I would be in for something special.

Being in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, was like a pilgrimage back into history - how I used to know this country as Czechoslovakia when I was in secondary one, before it became two separate countries; the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was once a communist state. Like Krakow and Budapest, the appearance of its public transportation system bears a passing resemblance to a communist country that it once was two decades ago.

Airport bus

I was quite impressed when the plane landed safely at the airport in the midst of thick and heavy snowfall. Coming from London, 5cm of snowfall could easily shut airports and train stations. So this was absolutely impressive. Which made me think that the case for the UK was not an issue of learning from the best, but from the rest.

Welcome to Prague

The many interesting shapes of snow

Noris came too. We were quite nervous when we learned few days before the trip temperatures were going as low as -14deg C. I guess we were fortunate that the temperatures averaged at -4deg C daily with the lowest at -9deg C.
With Noris at Prague Castle

There were lots of snow on the pathways. The snow has become ice making the pathways difficult and dangerous for walking. However, the air was fairly stable, so it didn't have the chill factor like in London. Still, the cold cuts through the layers of clothes I wore. That was when I followed my mom's advise of putting on a pair of long johns. I used the Adidas running tights instead since that was all I had.
Old Town Square

Night view

The Czech population is fairly homogeneous. So we did stand out when we were there - what more Noris wore a striking red coat too! What I do like about Prague is that, language is not a barrier here as it was in Krakow and Budapest. Most Czechs were able to speak English. However, I struggled to pronounce some of the names when I needed to ask for directions e.g words like "strc", "skrz" or "svejk". Apparently, they are pronounced as they are spelt!

Inside Hard Rock Cafe

I can live with Czech food easily. They serve lots of meat, pork especially, Noris' favourite. Just joking. However, we abstained from eating pork but had beef, duck, rabbit and fish instead. One of the interesting things I learned about Czech cuisine is that they serve most of the meat dishes with dumplings. These are not the Chinese style meat-filled dumplings but bread dumplings. This is probably what Malaysians would recognise as "pau" cut into slices.
Roasted rabbit in cream and cranberry sauce with bread dumpling, all washed down with a pint of Pilsner

Czech is a beer (Pilsner) drinking nation. A mug of Pilsner cost less than a glass of fresh fruit juice or a bottle of mineral water. It's ridiculous. I had to have a mug for every meal in order to "save" some money from drinking rubbish like coffee or tea. ;) But it wasn't a torture because their Pilsner was light. Apparently, Pilsner is said to be the origin of all types of beer. It was the world's first golden beer.

Prague was interesting in many ways. For a start, we stayed in a boat hotel (called botel), which was a new experience to me. The botel was docked at the Vlatava River, which was considered central to all tourist spots.
Albatros Botel

Ice sheets dotted the Vlatava River. View from Botel

Other interesting parts of the city include Prague Castle and Charles Bridge. Both of them were Prague's icons. The snow provided an interesting visual effect to these spots as they looked white as snow, quite literally!
View of Charles Bridge and Prague Castle at dusk

St Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle

One of the guards at Prague Castle

One of the statues in Charles Bridge and Prague Castle in background

View from Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge is a unique pedestrian bridge graced by 30 statues dating from the 18th century. It was the only bridge in Prague until mid 1800s. However, there was one thing that I didn't like about this bridge. The public space on the eastern embankment. To cross the bridge from the east, one has to cross a busy road running perpendicular to the direction of the bridge. It was a killjoy and an anti-climax as the journey to the majestic bridge was disrupted by the passing of vehicles.
Charles Bridge

When I told my mom about my planned trip to Prague, she recommended me a Carmelite-order church, called the Church of Our Lady of Victory. Based on the stories she told, I stopped by to find out about the church and got her a souvenir. I attended Sunday mass at the church too. She was right, it's quite well-known among the international Catholic community as I found out when they celebrated mass in English for a large English-speaking community.

Church of Our Lady of Victory

Prague is a lot bigger and more modern than Budapest and Krakow. However, three days was enough to cover a large part of the city even with the snow and slippery footpaths slowing us down. In fact, we ran out of places to see on the third day. So we took the metro and trams to explore the rustic part of the city. It was when we were out of the city that we realised there are actually young people in Prague. Otherwise, Prague as we thought, was a geriatric city.

After traveling to the three major Eastern European cities, this is how I would rate my experience in top three positions:

Food: (1) Budapest, (2) Prague, (3) Krakow
Scenery: (1) Budapest, (2) Prague, (3) Krakow
History: (1) Krakow (Auschwitz), (2) Budapest, (3) Prague
Value: (1) Krakow, (2) Prague, (3) Budapest
Overall: (1) Krakow, (2) Budapest, (3) Prague

Friday, February 05, 2010

Globalisation 3.0

Professor Dani Rodrik, a professor from Harvard University presented at LSE last year about Globalisation 3.0.

What is Globalisation 3.0? Well, let me first establish how we've come from 1.0 to 3.0.

In Globalization 1.0, which began around 1492, the world went from size large to size medium. In Globalization 2.0, the era that introduced us to multinational companies, it went from size medium to size small. And then around 2000 came Globalization 3.0, in which the world went from being small to tiny. Today the world as we know it, is borderless.

For example, there's a huge difference between making long distance phone calls on the Internet today and sending letters twenty years ago, which were the most affordable means of communication at their times.

I have a Globalisation 3.0 story to share. It happened this morning.

A Canadian colleague burst out a familiar tune and sang, "...and the weekly top fortieeeeeeeeee..."

I looked over and said excitedly, "That's Rick Dees isn't it?"

Another Canadian colleague joined in, "O yes! How did you know that?! Did you hear that from the UK? Do we have it here? I miss that."

I told them I heard that from Malaysia and that we already have Rick Dees since the late 90s when a new radio channel was launched . This is globalisation 3.0, I suppose.