Friday, December 09, 2011

Google Accent

I tried the Google App voice search for the first time after installing it a year ago.
I searched for something more recent, something the world talks about, so I tried, "Libya oppression".

The result was "lesbian operation".

Fine, it's my accent. So I cleared my throat and pressed the microphone icon again, I spoke up "li-bi-ya o-preh-shen", this time in a clearer and slower voice.

The result was "legion operation".

Tried again, it was "Libya operation".

Ah..getting there. So I tried again, it was, "Beautiful person".

"Beautiful person" from "Libya oppression"

I gave up in the end, knowing that I will never get there. Or was Google actually telling me these are the outcomes of the Libya oppression? I doubt it's as intuitive as that yet, but who knows.

A moment of realisation, I resorted to typing them out in the search bar and got 2.87 million results in 0.20 seconds.

Monday, December 05, 2011


Today I received my Biometric Residence Permit which means I am in the last leg of my stay before being granted an indefinite leave to remain in the UK - or commonly known as a PR. Okay I am already counting the chicken before the eggs hatch. I am assuming I am still around for the next two years; gainfully employed and not tainted by a criminal record.

Immigration rules have certainly changed a lot in the span of four years. I first started with the International Graduate Scheme (IGS) which gave me the opportunity to work here for a year after Cambridge. Six months later, the IGS was scrapped and replaced by the Tier 1 - Post Study Work Visa. The switch was to facilitate the points-based system. The T1-PSW does the same thing as the IGS, except that it is valid for two years.

After a year with the IGS, I applied to be a highly-skilled migrant. I applied to this new form of visa, known as the Tier 1- General, also a points-based system, to remain in the country. At the time engineers were a great commodity. There weren't enough of people like us in the country. We were in the list of skills shortage group. T1G was easily available to almost anyone with the right qualification, age, salary, skills and some money in the bank. As long as you fulfil these criteria, you're in.
Biometric Residence Permit

Things have changed a lot today. Apart from the application fee increasing from £750 four years ago to £1000 today, the T1G is now abolished. The Biometric Residence Permit (basically like the MyKad) is also a new invention to replace the vignette stamp in the passport. The only way to come into the UK is through a Tier 2 route which requires you to be in the skills shortage list and an employer who is willing to support your application. Yes, lots of odds stacked against newcomers.

Tier 1 is now only for the rich or super-smart. As long as you have £1mil in cold hard cash, or exceptionally talented (such as some award winning mad scientist), you're in. That too is based on a quota. Because I neither have £1mil in cold hard cash nor a noble prize to prove my exceptional talent (running a marathon, blogging and youtube videos don't count!) I wouldn't have gotten a visa if I applied one from Malaysia today!

The skills shortage list now suggest that my type of engineering profession is no longer needed in the country. But we're not alone. We join other professionals such as pharmacists, biology teachers and musicians. Doctors have been banned long time ago. The doors are closed, at least for newcomers in these sectors. Those who are in might have to follow new rules.

Recently the government was embroiled in a bit of an action with regards to border controls. The moribund economy further exacerbated feelings of xenophobia among jobless British people. Whenever statistics of unemployment are published, immigrants are to blame for "taking jobs" from the locals. Some politicians find it a great opportunity to make popular decisions to the detriment of immigrants in the country. One report suggested that the government will want to break the link between staying for five years and automatic conversion to PR. In the proposal, immigrants will now have to cross the threshold earning of £35,000 in order to become a PR. Anyone earning less will have to leave.

Imagine the disruption to businesses. But that's an example of what I meant by politicians "making popular decisions to the detriment of immigrants..." and may I add...businesses as well.

It's been a cracking five years witnessing the ups and downs of the immigration rules in this country. After going through so many hoops and considering how difficult it is for others to come in now, I am beginning to think if I should ever leave in the near term or even at all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Occasionally I am ashamed of my country because of the things I experience and news I read online.

At times, I am also very proud of us; again by what I experience and read online. This week I felt particularly patriotic because of what I found out.

Last Saturday, I had lunch with my friends at Hakkasan, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair. I had always wanted to dine in Hakkasan especially with all the rave reviews about it, however the prohibitive cost had always affected our collective decisions. I don't fancy dining in a posh restaurant on my own, so I must involve friends or at least a friend before I agree to do it. **Some joked if cost is our deciding factor, that means we still haven't made it in life!;)**


Hakkasan was the brainchild of Alan Yau. He's a Hong Kong restaurant entrepreneur who also opened Wagamama, Sake no Hana, Yauatcha and Princi Spirito di Milano. There are also the smaller fast casual restaurants like Busaba Eathai and ChaChaMoon. An impressive string of restaurants under his belt I must say. But this has changed. To-date, Wagamama is sold, Sake no Hana is sold, Yauatcha is sold...and you guessed it, Hakkasan is sold!

At one end of the spectrum, there is this person I so admire for his entrepreneur skills. Someone whose business is to build businesses and sell them for a profit; and at the other end, the jewels in the businesses themselves. For Hakkasan to keep its Michelin star, they have to be impeccable. Alan Yau isn't the one who maintains the star for his restaurants; it is the Head Chef and his team. Who are these people? Who is the Head Chef? So I find out.

Hakkasan's success is largely due to it's Head Chef, Mr Tong Chee Hwee, a Malaysian who alternated his career with Singapore and Kuala Lumpur before being headhunted by Alan Yau ten years ago. I wouldn't have thought the man behind all the rave reviews about the food happened to be a Malaysian. In fact I read that his great culinary skills were influenced by observing his mother and grandmother doing some serious Malaysian cooking in wooden stoves when he was young!

The Hakkasan experience spurred me on to look for the next Michelin-star restaurant to dine. I then found Kai, also at Mayfair. This is the first Chinese Restaurant that was awarded a Michelin star and guess what, it's run by Bernard Yeoh, a Malaysian. It's head chef, Alex Chow, is also another Malaysian.

So what's the big deal with the whole Malaysian thingy? Nothing. However these two examples gave meaning to an article I read in the weekend - the magic of diasporas; they also gave compelling evidence that my country is losing a lot of good people. And some of them are Michelin-starred people that the world now talks about but once neglected by it's own country.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Progress in Life

When I was studying here, I was careful with money. Even though there was no need to account for what I do with my money, I made sure my scholarship was always spent on important and necessary things only. In some ways, I made myself accountable for the "good" expected of me by my sponsors. For example, I'd rather pay £500** to fly back to Malaysia for my research than £90 for the wool coat that was selling at a bargain on Boxing Day sales.

I was a member of the Cambridge University Hare and Hounds Club. I had always wanted to get the club winter running gear but resisted the temptation. To me that was a "considered purchase", so I refrained from such "luxury". My free long sleeves were good enough and I wasn't too happy paying exorbitant sums only to soil the gear (we used to run in mud!)

This week I finally made a purchase of the club's hoodie in preparation for winter. Finally I can afford such "luxury". Not bad for some progress in life huh?;)

**That too didn't happen as I won a large grant for my research in the end! ....and I still didn't get the wool coat.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pain of November

Today I know how it feels for a mother to see her child dead upon birth.

After working hard on something for 11 months, sacrificing social life for weekends in the office, waking up in cold sweat in the middle of the night and poring through texts of hundreds of journals, what I got in the end was a dead "baby".

Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani.

Monday, August 15, 2011

British Road Names in KL

An email with information of old KL road names brought back nostalgic memories.

All the names reminded me of growing up in KL. Whenever it's school holidays, my brother and I followed our parents to town. I've no recollection why we ended up in the City all the time but I do remember vaguely of the trips to the dentist, shopping for school uniforms, textbooks, toys etc because of all the walking under the sweltering heat of the tropical weather!

I remember my father will always drive pass Central Market, which at the time was a wet and dirty market, to park his Peugeot 305 in nearby Bank Pertanian Malaysia as it was closest to my mom's and his office in Medan Pasar and Leboh Ampang before continuing our journey to the colonial-looking Sin Seng Nam coffee shop for some serious breakfast- Chee Cheong Fun, soup noodles and steamed bread with kaya and butter.

Before I get carried away giving a low down of my childhood, fast forward to today, some of the names in the list below are still recognisable. In fact, one is still used interchangeably - Bukit Tunku/Kenny Hill. Unfortunately, I must say I cannot recognise the rest.

When I was young(er), my parents always told me stories about their courtship days eating porridge in Campbell Road. Now I see that's in Dang Wangi!

It does also explain why some KL buildings inherit partial English names that doesn't make sense anymore to our generation, for example SJKC Jalan Davidson, while it is located in Jalan Hang Jebat.

Jalan Davidson in Jalan Hang Jebat, does it make sense?

The list below:

1) Jalan Raja Laut = Broadrick Road
2) Jalan Cheng Lock = Foch Avenue
3) Jalan Dang Wangi - Campbell Road
4) Jalan Dewan Bahasa = Old Airport Road
5) Jalan Esfahan = Straits Road
6) Jalan Hang Jebat = Davidson Road
7) Jalan Hang Kasturi = Rodger Road
8) Jalan Hang Lekir = Cecil Road
9) Jalan Hang Lekiu = Klyne Road
10) Jalan Hang Tuah = Shaw Road
11) Jalan Masjid India = Dickson Road
12) Jalan Lebuh Pasar = Market Street
13) Medan Pasar Besar = Old Market Square
14) Jalan P Ramlee = Parry Road
15) Jalan Raja Chulan = Weld Road
16) Jalan Sultan Ismail = Treacher Road
17) Jalan Syed Putra = Loarnie Road
18) Jalan TAR = Batu Road
19) Jalan Tun HS Lee = High Street
20) Jalan Tun Perak = Mountbatten Road
21) Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin/Silang = Cross Road
22) Changkat Raja Chulan = Hicks Road
23) Jalan Bukit Aman @ Bukit Aman = Bluff Road @ Bluff Hill
24) Bukit Tunku = Kenny Hill
25) Jalan Cenderawasih = Spooner Road
26) Jalan Dato Onn = Brockman Road
27) Jalan Duta = Guillemard Road
28) Jalan Gereja = Church Street
29) Jalan Istana = Taylor Road
30) Jalan Kebun Bunga = Orchid Road
31) Jalan Kinabalu = Old River Road
32) Jalan Langgak Golf = Golf View Road
33) Jalan Mahkamah Persekutuan = Holland Road
34) Jalan Mahkamah Tinggi = Clarke Road
35) Jalan Raja Abdullah = Hale Road
36) Jalan Raja Alang = Hans Road
37) Jalan Raja = Raja Road
38) Jalan Raja Muda Abdul Aziz = Princes Road
39) Jalan Semarak = Gurney Road
40) Jalan Sultan Sulaiman = Swettenham Road
41) Jalan Tangsi = Barrack Road
42) Jalan Traver = Damansara Road
43) Jalan Tun Ismail = Maxwell Road
44) Jalan Tun Razak/Pekeliling = Circular Road
45) Jalan Wisma Putra = Hose Drive
46) Persiaran Mahameru = Swettenham Drive
47) Persiaran Maybank = Court Hill
48) Persiaran Sultan Salahuddin = Clifford Road

Would be interested to know about British road names in other Malaysian cities. If you have anymore to add in here, please feel free to write in the comment box.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Paris Marathon 2011

After all the training through the miserable winter months early this year, I finally completed my ninth marathon in Paris on 10 April 2011, and achieved a new personal best time of 3hr 45mins.

Completed the 9th marathon

The Paris Marathon cost me €90 - €80 for the entry fee and €10 to insure the fee in case I didn't turn up.

This is the first marathon I ran outside of the UK. Along with the list of firsts in this race were:
1. First time running in compression tights
2. Using a GPS watch
3. Peed nonchalantly at a Parisian listed building
4. Witnessed a female runner pulling her running tights down and peed in front of me!

Pardon me for the disgusting fixation on peeing but Paris has always started as a city of filth. People peed on the streets and walkways nonchalantly. It was a way of life just as Malaysians had to use "lah" in their conversations. But Paris is rid of that image today, in fact it is the most romantic city in the world. The marathon peeing experience certainly brought back a surreal moment in time of what I read about the old Paris. In fact the vespasiennes, basically public urinals, were installed to stop Parisians from relieving themselves as and when they liked and preventing buckets of faeces flying down from flat balconies.

At the running expo before race day, I collected my running pack with CP, Florence and Noris. The weather at the time provided a good indication of the climate we would be running in the next morning. It was dry and hot.

On race day, the morning temperature was mild but quickly soared to 28 deg C in the middle of the race. Malaysian friends might think I am overplaying the weather issue but considering I have been training through the winter months and having gotten accustomed to wearing winter gear, this was certainly an exceptional circumstance. I had to make last minute adjustments. This means wearing thinner clothing and peeling off some of the layers I have been training on. This automatically increased the risk of injury from potential chaffing, just like wearing a new pair of shoes.

Paris still has a little bit more to catch up with London in terms of "fun" and "vibe" but apart from that, the quality of the race was superb. It was on par with London, and in some areas better than London. In Paris for example, runners are offered raisins, oranges, banana, sugar cubes and sweets at every refreshment station. This was not the case in London.

Maybe I worry too much about the smaller things. The bigger things like the running expo and crowd support did make London the clear winner. Other things like the finishing t-shirt and medal are better off in Paris than in London. I was told, "€90 for Paris, £32 for London, what do you expect?". Sure, but don't forget London gets almost everything subsidised from the sponsors. But even if they weren't, I'd rather pay a little more, even double that, to get a nicer medal, t-shirt and a guaranteed place.
The medal

Having ran London twice, I found the Paris route more appealing. It's greener, more scenic and wider. But Paris wasn't always like that. Like I mentioned earlier, it was once the filthiest city in the late 18th century, River Seine, the main river through the heart of Paris, was a cesspit. The route also brought me to parts of Paris I wouldn't have found or ventured. For example, the route introduced me to the greener side of Paris such as the Vincennes to the east and Boulogne to the west of the Champs-Elysees marathon loop. Though my fifth trip to Paris, the marathon surprised me of the many places I have yet to cover.

The reason I spoke of the east-west divide was because Paris was quite a "$h1Th0L3" (pardon my language) in the 18th century. The city was absolutely trashed by abattoirs and sewage from Chatelet into the Seine. More than 20,000 Parisians die every year as a result of river pollution and the average lifespan of Parisians at the time was 23 years old. That's almost like life's greatest swindle - an antithesis to scoring 5As in Sixth Form and then looking forward to dying! That is why I was particularly drawn to seeing the distinction between the east and west. The poisonous parts were concentrated at the east of the river and if you've lived in the west, you're probably slightly better off.

Back to modern times, it's amazing taking control of the roads for a day without the fear of being run over by the chaotic traffic system at the Champs-Elysees on normal days. That is the why event management team has done a great job in putting the race together.

Welcoming finish by CP, Florence and Noris

Special thanks to CP and family for hosting my stay in Paris. They have been extremely kind with their hospitality as always - from the privilege to choose the bed to sleep to the minute details of carbo-loading for dinner the night before and breakfast in the morning. Knowing that I like raclette, CP also specially hosted a raclette lunch for post-marathon meal with his family. What more can I say but a million thanks!

CP hosted a sumptuous raclette post-marathon lunch

Also thanks to Noris for flying to Paris just to support me and the cohort of Malaysians who ran the marathon.
Malaysian supporters and runners

The cohort of 2011 Paris Marathon runners

To Fiona, Khoi, Jacqueline, Vinita, Lena, Lau, Kong Lim and Candy; it's been amazing training with you guys! Training for the marathon was so much easier this time as compared to the yesteryears in Cambridge when I was either a “freak” to many or I’m “too “slow” to the other freaks. So it's good to know I've found the right freaks to train with finally!;)

To Azran Osman Rani, CEO of Air Asia X, nice to have kept in touch with you and know that I beat you in the race!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Whole Foods Market Run

The Whole Foods Market Run is the penultimate training to the Paris Marathon. This is the milestone marking two weeks from the race day in the French capital city.

Can't believe I have already gone this far since signing up for the race back in October last year. This is the first marathon out of Malaysia that I train with a group of friends. It was a lonely journey for the past two London Marathons.

Running buddies

So this is one of the few race events which we signed up to condition ourselves for the long distance race.

Something about this race that I hated and liked. I liked the organising, the timing, drinks, support, traffic management and professional arrangement of the entire event. No hiccups, at least none of which that stood out to me.

The route was flat except for the climb up to two bridges - Kingston and Hampton Court Palace. The weather was perfect for running with temperatures lingering at 9-10 degrees C. Official results are out today:

Time: 2 hrs 8mins 57 secs
Total distance: 16 miles or 25.6km
Category position: 92 out of 231
Overall position: 427 out of 1367

Map below

The sponsors were generous with their offers. Whole Foods Market, a natural and organic foods retailer, was one of the sponsors and particularly generous with their cereal bars, fruits and herbal body wash. The words "natural" and "organic" conjure up an image of expensive and posh products and so they were with Whole Foods Market products. But these were given out free to runners until the stock ran out!

However, there were also things which I didn't like. One of them could have been avoided from the planning stage. The run fell on the day we switched to the British Summer Time. This I felt could have been organised on a Saturday, instead of Sunday. Already I felt this clock changing is such a cynical attempt of us humans trying to tamper with mother nature's daylight. Having to succumb to this inconvenience gave me a grumpy start to the morning. I wouldn't have minded it if it wasn't as early as 8.25 am and didn't have to catch an early train to Kingston. I woke up at 5.30am and effectively had 4 hours of sleep before taking on the 16-mile challenge. I had an hour less sleep than I should, so how can I not be grumpy?

Lucozade, was the other sponsor that provided runners with their branded drinks. Very generous of them to the point they've become obscene. I have given feedback about this during the London Marathon so they provided the soft pack drinks the following year. However, I don't think the shift in packaging has anything to do with my feedback. Unfortunately, the Lucozade bottles made their appearance again in this run. Sad to see the majority of the bottles not consumed entirely and strewn all over the roads. What a waste!

The finishing medal? What finishing medal? There was no finishing medal, bloody heck! All we had was a mug after 16 miles! Yes a bloody mug as memento. This is an area UK organisers can learn from the Asians. I think we get better mementos and finishing t-shirts back home!

Race memento??!!

Well I guess I'm just going to transfer my toothbrush, toothpaste and shaver into this new mug. At least it gets to remind me of this race every time I clean myself.

Can't help but think of those t-shirts you find in souvenir shops that says: "My friend went to London and all she got me was this stupid t-shirt"? Now I think the same for this race and the mug.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The O2 Arena is home to many concerts and international events in London. The site will also play host to several events during the London 2012 Games. As we were discussing about a serious issue related to the events taking place next year, a colleague looked puzzled.

He was in deep thoughts and appeared seriously engaged in the discussion. One of us asked if there was something he wanted to share. Waking up from his thoughts he replied, "Gosh, Blink 182 is great! These guys are playing in the O2 soon."

What a red-herring!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tracking down Japanese Host Family

Whenever my brother called at a time when the rest of the UK is still sleeping, there are only two possibilities - (1) something is terribly wrong or (2) he's forgotten the UK time. This time something went terribly wrong. He called to announce that a large earthquake has struck Japan, my immediate reaction was to wake up and turn on the TV. If it was as serious as he described -that SOME CITIES IN JAPAN HAVE COLLAPSED- it would be BREAKING NEWS in BBC. And it was.

When I saw the news, my thoughts went out to the people I knew when I was studying in Japan; Niigata in particular.

Most of the people I know from Japan were accounted for in Facebook except for one - the Nakata family. The Nakata family was my host family when I was studying in Niigata. Mrs Nakata, the host mother whom I occasionally contact treated me like her son when I was there. So when the earthquake struck, my thought was with her and the family.

For the past three days, I have been trawling through my email address book to look for her contact numbers. Usually, I prefer to email her since my Japanese vocabulary has deteriorated from the heydays of speaking it "amature-ish" fluently to a level now Japanese people would shun and rather speak to me in English. Unfortunately, emails to her multiple accounts were bounced and calls went unanswered.

"We're sorry, there's a disruption to the destination you are calling. Please try again later."

At the very least, the random messages acted as suppressant to the nerves. A slight hope that things might be better than I imagined. At least there was the possibility that the mobile network has screwed up at the point of time.

On Saturday I checked with Owen's wife, Akiko whose family is in Chiba. She confirmed she too was facing the same problem and that the lines to Japan were severely disrupted at the time. Slight relieve.

Not to be beaten down, I arrived work half an hour earlier this morning to try again. I avoided the evening rush hour in Japan hoping the lines would be less busy. Still no luck.

Nakata family's bungalow and adjoining hair salon

Somehow I work better in panic mode. I remembered she has a hair salon in Shibata. So I put in the keywords and Googled them. I remember another Japanese host family telling me that my host mother's hair salon was one of the most popular in Shibata. Surely her contact details had to be in the WORLD WIDE WEB! In the world of technology, no one can be good (or bad) without the INTERNET knowing. So I Googled for her name and hair salon. There were 154564561789494945648956465156156103 results spewed out. Worst of all, the first 10 pages were hair salons in Niigata rather than Shibata. Shibata is in the Niigata Prefecture just like Cambridge is in the East of England. Imagine the returned results of hair salons were from the whole of East of England!

To make matters worse, all results were in Japanese.

Trawling through the WORLD WIDE WEB was definitely worse than finding a needle in a haystack. At least you know the boundary of the haystack and with a little more time, you will find the needle. What is the boundary of the WORLD WIDE WEB?

20minutes into mouse-scrolling and Ctrl+F-ing and cutting and pasting the kanji characters finally got me somewhere. A series of familiar characters jumped out of one particular Google results page. A phone number also corresponded with Shibata's area code - 0254- As if God was helping, I spotted a rather familiar series of characters and kanjis for Shibata.

Now that I found a contact number, I was hesitant to call.

"It's expensive to call Japan. What if it isn't connected to the right person?"
"What if someone picks up and can't understand my Japanese?"
"What if it's the right person but crying to tell me her family members were all missing?"

Of course these came and went in a flash. I didn't even bother pausing for a second thought. I tried the number nevertheless.

I pressed the number slowly, one by one, then paused for it to get through. Then the call was connected. On the other side of the line was a familiar voice. I introduced myself. An indifferent tone then turned into a joyous voice. It was Mrs Nakata.

Monday, February 28, 2011

4am dinner

At 8pm it was dinner time. I was hungry but my body was calling for bed. My eyes were struggling to stay opened. I responded with a quick dinner and went back to my room.

I was in fact having dinner at 4am Malaysian time. I'm nursing a jet lag and hoping to recover soon.

It's now 10 minutes to 7 o'clock in the morning in Malaysia. Anyway, good night Malaysia!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2010 in Review

It took me a while to recollect my thoughts for 2010.

Overall 2010 was a very difficult year for me. It was a year where I had plenty of downs and a modicum of ups. The lessons learned made me a stronger and better person. 2010 thought me humility and pushed me back to basics. It led me out of my comfort zone. Through that I rediscovered myself.

The happy things I could remember are the many places I traveled, people I met and things I have learned from them. There were also good surprises from people who came to visit me in London. Some investments have also paid off on the financial side except those related to the British currency.

Still the most valuable things to me are those that cannot be bought - family, friends and people who care. It drew me out of seeking pleasure from the ephemeral satisfaction of material and fairweather friends. That pride and arrogance took a big hit through the setbacks that happened one after another.

The journey to becoming a Chartered Engineer and the fight to stay in employment during the recession will always remind me of the difficulties in 2010. Say this is the luck I deserve for being in London but these will always strengthen me to deal with bigger issues in future. It is true that anyone who can survive in London, can survive anywhere. Overcoming these made me realise I have truly grown up. These were the times I wasn't allowed to cry and was always telling myself to stay calm and carry on.

I felt extremely lonely in those times. I felt I was all by myself and that no one understood my feelings. But those consoling words from family and friends will always be treasured greatly.

Faced with these difficult situations I had to juggle with "staying happy" so that people at home will not get too worried for me especially my late grandmother who occasionally asked about me. Perhaps another immigrant would only understand what this feeling is all about.

And speaking of her, 2010 was also the year I have lost my dear grandmother. She has left a big hole in the family and her absence was felt immediately. I wouldn't categorically say this was the culmination of the streak of bad news for 2010. As Christians, we believe that she is now in a better place.

My grandmother's passing away and the string of other disappointing news have given birth to a very important and meaningful philosophy for me to start the new year:

"I've only failed when I do not have a life to try again."