Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Birthday

I have turned a year wiser on Thursday. This was marked by a week of dinners and activities beginning last Saturday to this Saturday.

Last Saturday on 20th, Nina invited about 20 guests to celebrate my birthday and Aidil Adha with fellow Muslim Malaysians at her pad in Streatham. She specially cooked soft-shell crabs for me after asking what special meal I wanted for dinner. Felt really touched by the gesture as she refrained from cooking to the other guests until I arrived. Nina also made it excitingly special by uncorking a bottle of champagne to toast for me.

Soft shell crab

Nina's champagne

The next day on Sunday 21st, I treated myself to an early Christmas and birthday lunch with fellow colleagues and friends at Madsen, a Scandinavian restaurant at South Kensington. We experienced the traditional Danish way of celebrating Christmas with Dorte, a Danish colleague, explaining the order and significant of the dishes and drinks. What I understood from her is that Danish Christmas is a little bit like an extension version of the Chinese New Year, where people visit friends and family to eat, drink and get piss drunk for a week until New Year!
Dorte explaining the Danish Christmas traditions

Lunch at Madsen

On Monday 22nd, Petrina treated me to dinner at the Oxford and Cambridge Club at Pall Mall London. Petrina was from Jesus College, Cambridge and elevated her membership to the exclusive club for OxBridge Alumni. Dining there reminded me of formal halls; strict dress code and table manners. I wore a Wolfson College tie to enhance the "Cambridge" experience. Notable differences in the hall include diners as working professionals, not students in gowns and we are seated in round tables rather than the usual long rectangular Harry Potter dining tables. Just as formal halls, we started with a glass of sherry but didn't end with port though. We ordered cakes instead. I had foie gras with saute duck egg on brioche croute as starter and guinea fowl with grand marnier sauce and citrus fruits as main.

On Tuesday 23rd, I went to catch a live football match with Eskandar at Stamford Bridge, London. It was the Champions League where Chelsea was playing against MSK Zilina of Slovakia. Chelsea won 2-1. It was my first time seeing a football match live. Come to think of it, I have never seen a live football match in my life even in Malaysia! I'm a little bit late in this aspect of my life considering I have lived in England for more than four years now. But better late than never.

Chelsea vs MSK Zilina at Stamford Bridge

On 25th which was my birthday, I joined my colleagues and client for ice-skating at Canary Wharf. Skating in circle repetitively is boring if you already know how. So I interspersed skating with chatting with the Client and colleagues. It wasn't a big rink but it was well compensated by the great vibe in the area. If I fell flat on my bottom, I would see the rink surrounded by big banks and international companies like KPMG, HSBC and Barclays. Somehow skating in Canary Wharf provided a moment of inspiration. An hour of skating was more than enough. We adjourned for drinks at a nearby pub afterward. We couldn't have chosen a better one. The Fine Line seemed to be a favourite. It was teeming with bankers and salarymen from Canary Wharf.

Ice-skating at Canary Wharf

View when fall flat on the bottom

On Friday 26th I had drinks with my colleagues. The rule in the UK is that the birthday boy buys the cakes in the kitchen and continues with drinks outside. I hadn't had to stay long as I had to rush off for dinner with Noris who treated me to a sumptuous meal at Four Seasons. Half a duck and two main dishes between the two of us! It wasn't gluttony because we finished them all. He also presented me an Austin Reed wallet as birthday gift which was timely since the current one is wearing out.
Drinks with colleagues

Dinner at Four Seasons

This evening on 27th culminated the week of my birthday. I organised an Eritrean dinner at Adulis with 11 friends. Was extremely happy to find out that everyone enjoyed the Eritrean dining experience. It was something out of the ordinary. Despite temperatures falling below freezing in the whole of UK, they braved the treacherous weather to come for the dinner. For this I am extremely grateful. Fiona homebaked a blueberry and strawberry cheesecake which I enjoyed heaps. Irene and Noris shared a strawberry and chocolate cake. So there were two cakes to share around for dinner. A fortuitous encounter eating a combination of two cakes was more pleasant than I thought. They were so good people didn't hesitate packing the leftover slices. Received with many thanks presents from Fiona, Owen and wife, Eskandar, Vinita, Priti, Amy and Bakhtier.
Eritrean dinner at Adulis

Eritrean meal - meat and injera

Birthday cakes

Also many thanks to everyone especially daddy and mummy for your kind birthday wishes.

I would also like to regurgitate a Facebook wall message here:

Today 32 years ago the folks were looking down at the 7-month premature baby thinking what's he like when he grows up. I guess he's done pretty well with his friends. Thank you all for your wishes!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Begging for Upbringing

I don't come from a posh family but my parents did teach me a thing or two about manners. I suppose this upbringing has enabled me to interact easily without the risk of making anyone upset.

Yesterday my six-year old friend in the house asked for a Christmas present in front of her nanny. "A, can you please get me this play house for Christmas, please please please?" she asked pointing to a Christmas gift brochure and showing a sad puppy face.

Little friend, Ka-Ya

Her nanny appeared shocked and immediately reprimanded her, "Excuse me! What did you say?!...Ka-Ya you are so rude, do you know that?! I am telling your mommy!" She was immediately summoned back to her room.

This is in striking contrast to what my Malaysian friend would do. She is a mom of three and would happily encourage the daughters to ask me buy them presents - Christmas, birthdays, scoring straight As in exams, etc etc. Whatever reason sells.

When I was young, this would have been disapproved by my parents. My brother and I were taught to work hard for something we want. Begging wasn't part of the lesson. We were brought up never to look a gift horse in the mouth let alone begging for one. It is one thing to announce birthdays and achievements but another to use them to beg for presents. And dare I ask what difference does it make as compared to the professional beggars in pasar malam? Both are beggars in training.

Professional beggar in pasar malam
(photo by sesku)

Recently I attended a birthday party. The event was in short supply of food when I arrived. There were still people arriving. Something had to be done so I volunteered to do a food run at a nearby supermarket. What took me by surprise wasn't the short supply of food but the manner in which I was asked to pay for the food I volunteered to buy. I was told, "Hey A, it's my birthday, why don't you treat this as my birthday present?" Alarm bells rung immediately. Something was very wrong.

Never mind this was on top of what I bought earlier to the house. That was altogether thirty bloody quid already to subsidise for someone else's party to look good. To put into perspective I would have happily spent thrice the amount and buy a separate gift on top of the food run if perhaps the request had been put nicely. But since it was asked upon me, I resented it.

My defense is simple and pardon me for being calculative. Will you in return give me a Christmas present? Will you in return buy me the new IPhone if I scored straight As in my professional exam? Will you in return spend 30 quid for a birthday present for me?

I am certainly perplexed if it's just me and my upbringing or the people whom I encountered happen to be different from the norm? Don't some people consider that the person they are begging from may have an untold difficulty too? Or are people like me supposed to be all graceful when being taken advantage of and accept it as a bloody fool? What about you? What do you think?

My Philosophy of Friendship

Friendship is an investment and I take my investments seriously.

Investment in friendship does not necessarily lead to spending money. However, on some occasions investing a little money to know the person better is a necessary evil.

In financial investment, things are straightforward. The good outcome is when you gain a profit and the bad outcome is when you lose money. It's a little different in friendship. The outcomes are assessed differently. I assess friendship by looking at the direction of the investment - is it one way or two?

One-way investments happen when someone becomes the absolute taker with no intentions of reciprocating in whatever circumstance. Unfortunately this type of people are a disappointment in friendship investment. These are people who will kick your face when you are down and knock you out when you are of no more benefit to them. Fortunately, this type of person is easily identified. Which is why I mentioned earlier that spending money to exorcise this type of person is a necessary evil. It is also a stop-loss in future investments. There is no room for such friendship in my portfolio of investment, so I get rid of them in a flash.

Two-way investments happen when there is a dynamic exchange of investments between both parties - mutual trust, respect, empathy and positive vibe with each other. Two-way investments are rare and far between. That is why, a good friendship is hard to come by.

Backed by this philosophy, I draw parallels to what I'm doing elsewhere in life. For example, I have started the cull in Facebook; trimming down from 683 "friends" to 400ish. Of this, only a select few are granted visibility. I am sure I too am assessed the same way by other people.

Monday, November 15, 2010

2011 London Tube Fares

The following is the approved Tube Fare for 2011 which I obtained from an "insider" who gave permission to share this out:

Off-Peak Price Cap
Zone 1-2: £6.60 (previous £5.60)
Zone 1-4: £7.30 (£6.30)

Peak Price Cap
Zone 1-2: £8.00 (£7.20)
Zone 1-3: Withdrawn (£8.60)
Zone 1-4: £10.00 (£10.00)

Bus Fares
Oyster Single: £1.30 (£1.20)
Oyster Cap: £4.00 (£3.90)
Cash: £2.20 (£2.00)

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Two and a half years after living in London and just across the road to the oldest commercial TV network in the UK, I went in to one of the studios on a priority ticket to see the live production of The Graham Norton Show. Ironically the chat show was a BBC production, a rival network to the ITV. But not much of a surprise with this sort of thing in the UK. Cross-fertilisation with rivals is commonplace here.

Graham Norton Show

Rihanna, Daniel Radcliffe, Colin Farell and Rhod Gilbert were present. Can't believe I met all of them in one night. I was particularly impressed with Daniel Radcliffe who rushed to the event from the movie premiere of his latest Harry Potter movie in the evening. He was shorter in real life than I thought! He shared that the craziest fans he had were from Japan. A Japanese fan gave him a rubber ear!

Rihanna announced her upcoming album "Loud" and sang the album's lead single "Only Girl" on stage to the rousing applause from us.

Certainly a memorable experience for me and hopefully the three of my friends.