Translate this page

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My short Shenzhen trip.

With a tight schedule planned for the 4 days I am there, I doubt I will see much of Shenzhen, if there is any opportunity to do so it would be in the late evenings.
The flight took slightly more than 4 hours arriving at almost 9 pm. It certainly helps that Malaysia shares the same time zone as China, without which I might need a while to get orientated.
A blast of cold air hit my face as I step off the plane into Boa’an International Airport, it’s the beginning of colder weather in Shenzhen, what a pleasant change compared to hot and humid Kuala Lumpur a couple of hours ago. The winter here I am told by my Chinese office colleagues is very mild and at between 17 to 19 degrees celcius for the duration I was there it was rather comfortable.
Now let’s see the instructions from our Shenzhen office again, take only the red taxi not the green one and show the hotel address written in Chinese, travelling in Shenzhen is safe but pay attention to your belongings!
Me with the "Red" taxi in the background.

The advise sounds sensible for travelling in any part of the world. Shenzhen is a city of 153 sq miles populated by about 9 million industrious Han Chinese living and working together with 20% of China’s PhD holders, home to the world’s ninth tallest building and a city with a record of building one high rise a day and one boulevard every three.

Shopping district near the hotel.

True enough, all I had time for was to catch some sights of Shenzhen shopping district in one of the evening near the hotel, famous for it's cheap mobile phones on sale. Also had the opportunity to have a day trip to Dongguan on official duties.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A week in Bandung

I am on a solo work assignment again, this time it is taking me to Bandung, Indonesia. It is Indonesia’s fourth largest city after Jakarta, Surabaya and Medan. Being located at a higher elevation, the climate in Bandung is cooler than most Indonesian cities with an average temperature of 23.6 °C throughout the year.
However, on this occasion the weather was far from ideal when I arrived in Bandung’s Hussein Sastranegara Airport, it was raining heavily and there was no aero bridge to speak of. We had to take a 30 meter walk from the tarmac to the terminal using umbrellas provided. The small arrival terminal was also not a big help to the situation, especially when there was another flight from Singapore that arrived a few minutes earlier, clearing immigration took some time, luggage collection was chaotic, do not expect to see luggage conveyor belts here, what you can see are people manually handling your bags to you. But I supposed the system do work, I got my luggage intact after stepping over a few persons toes and elbowing whoever is in my way. In just slightly more than an hour (the flight from KL to Bandung took 2 hours) I am able to clear all obstacles from tarmac to arrival hall and meet my host patiently waiting for me.
The route taken to my intended destination in the next few days for my work proves to be refreshing, crossing rice field and narrow village roads in the outskirts.

Meanwhile, the sheer density of people in the town here are overwhelming, you can literally feel the crowd everywhere. Traffic is haphazard but surprisingly I see many polite drivers here giving way when the need arise and with a smile too, never mind the other guy was travelling against traffic. Even more surprising was that I was able to see civilians and traffic policemen directing traffic together on the same spot of the road, most unusual and it doesn’t seem to cause any conflict.

Bechas and Horse carriage are a still a popular mode of transport here

On the first evening, I went to Jalan Riau, famous for their “factory outlets” where supposedly textile products direct from factory, with products that are rejected or over-produced and export quality items are sold. Quite a number of branded items are available here at reasonable prices. The ladies at home would have loved this place.

Jalan Riau where most of the "factory outlets" are located.

The food here is generally spicy, with many restaurants serving Nasi Padang, a local favorite consisting of many dishes of spicy curry beef, fried chicken, fish and vegetables served with rice, the unique practice here is that you are only billed on what is eaten, and dishes served but not touched are taken back.
Typical Nasi Padang spread
Restaurant located on a paddy field

Suroundings of the restaurant

Other interesting food I had was beef ribs in barbeque sauce called “konro” served together with a delicious soup. There was also an opportunity to do lunch in an interesting restaurant located on a paddy field serving, yes, you guessed right, Nasi Padang and satay.
Konro with soup
Followed by a lovely desert of shaved ice with banana fillings in sweet syrup called "Pisang Ijo"

Upmarket dining

Also had the opportunity to try out Nasi Timbel for lunch that comes with spicy barbeque chicken, fried bean curd, salted fish, rice rolled up in banana leaves and red hot explosive chili paste (sambal) on the side, guaranteed to light up your life at least during lunch.

Nasi Timbel

Of course, as in most of my travels in Asia, it is almost certain I will eventually be taken to a Chinese restaurant and this trip was no different.
For all homecoming trips from Indonesia the buying of Indonesian cakes has evolved to be somewhat mandatory, unfortunately the family’s favorite layer cakes, does not seem to be as popular here as in Medan and I ended up with some special Bandung cream puff and other pastries. But I am sure the items gotten from the “factory outlets” will more than compensate for the layer cakes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Peacock Fern (Selaginella willdenowii)

With it fronds glistening of iridescent metallic blue caused by the reflection of light often enhanced through the gentle breeze sweeping through the tropical rain forest and moisten from the wet environment of the forest floor, ignoring the uniqueness of this fern would be difficult as it stands out amongst the foliage of the forest floor.
This fern can be found climbing and twirling around other plants forming into many smaller branches at times. The fern is endemic to Indo China, Peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia.

From articles I read about this fern, the purpose for this unique exhibition of colors remains unclear. As a fern it produces no flowers, so the iridescent display by the fronds to functions as a mechanism to attract pollinators does not hold water. It has been speculated that this iridescent quality protects the fern from the ultraviolet rays of the sun which I believe many a botanist will disagree. Such is the work of nature that this iridescent leave fern are among the most striking of the world’s flora.

The current explanation for this iridescent quality is best described by (David. W. Lee 1977)
“The iridescence is apparently caused by the effect of thin film interference filters in the leaf epidermis. Lee pointed out that the convex epidermal cells in this species may focus light into a single, distal, large chloroplast, possibly adaptations for the improvement of photosynthetic efficiency at the forest floor level”.
Not being a botanist, I take that to mean the iridescent fronds help in improving the efficiency of the photosynthesis process.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cornstalk Dracaena (Dracaena fragrans)

Also known as Corn plant or Chinese Money Tree it belongs to the plant family Ruscaceae that looks like a corn stalk.
Native to West Africa, it is now wide spread across the globe due to its popularity as an indoor house plant. It is adaptable to a wide range of conditions, from full sun to low interior light conditions and grows best in half shaded areas.
It is easily propagated by cutting off segments of old canes a few inches long and then allowed to dry. Once sufficiently dried they are inserted into moist sand until rooted and new growth will emerge from old leaf scars.
The wild Dracaena fragrans has green leaves that can reach up to 3 feet long and 4 inches wide, often seen with a height that reaches almost 20 foot tall. However, once potted their size is stunted with slow growth and that is where I think its popularity as an indoor or house plant takes off.
Other varieties seen have leaves broadly striped with light green and yellow down the center.
When they flower and usually only very mature specimens do so, the white flowers are highly fragrant especially in the evenings, hence deriving the name fragrans. Contrary to popular believe, the plant does not wither after flowering but continues to grow.
Other properties of Dracaena fragrans not widely known, includes the plant used in the NASA Clean Air Study that shows it can help remove Formaldehyde from the environment, indicating it would also make a good natural air scrubber for the home.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A weekend in Singapore.

I was in Singapore recently for two weeks on work assignment, although I have been there on numerous occasions, I will be staying over the weekend this time.
The word Singapore invokes perception of a country which works like clockwork where all things happen because they are planned and are implemented with enforcement. As the only non gum chewing nation in the world as far as I know (sale of chewing gum for non medicinal purposes are prohibited) and the apparent obsession with self flushing public toilets, it does reinforce the perception.

Interesting sculpture seen along Orchard Road and on the way to the National Museum.

When I am there I worry whether I am breaking some laws that I am not aware I am breaking. My perceptions are surprisingly even shared by an American friend that has never set foot on this island nation, he has jokingly told me to make sure my tie is straight when I am there.

The 121 years old National Museum.

But one thing I must say, the discipline regime does pay off by having public roads, shopping complexes and public parks that are in immaculate conditions.

Landmarks in Orchard Road.

Everything generally is predictable, bus arrives on time, things happen as it should be, nothing much is out of place.
Although I have met rude taxi drivers and seen cigarette butts on the ground it was more of an exception rather than the norm.
Places I went during the weekend are the National museum and the unavoidable tourist shopping haunt Orchard road. Having no intentions on this trip to spend on sigthseeing, the places I went to are as far as the hotel shuttle will take me.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Curiosity got the better of me again and I was wondering what these plants with bright colorful leaves I often see in gardens, homes and occasionally in the wild are called, where they come from, how many varieties are there and so forth.

Well, I found out they are called Caladiums. With their pointed shaped leaves and attractive stunning colors, splashed in shades of green, white and red, they make excellent ornamental plants in the porch or room as it thrives well in shaded areas.

These tropical plants which are very well suited to our local hot and humid climate are native to South America.
Caladium comes in many varieties of various size leaves and colorful patterns.
All parts of the plant are poisonous, the poison is caused by the presence of Calcium oxalate crystals and Asparagines, a protein found in the plant.

Common Caladiums often seen are the Bicolor variety, I found five of this variants growing in my small garden itself.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bracket Fungi

They can be observed on the forest floor amongst the dead vegetation, usually growing on old rotting tree trunks. It survives on recycling nutrients, as they do not have chlorophyll nutrients are obtained by breaking down the tissues of other plants, commonly dead wood but not always the case. Encountering a species of the Bracket fungi in the Malaysian rain forest is common if you are observant, all of which reproduce by producing spores.

Bracket fungi have about 1000 species which generally consists of tough or woody fungi and are so named due to its bracket like shape of their fruiting bodies. There are also some species that are of bright orange or yellow color with annual growth rings visible. Please take note that not all Bracket fungi are edible some are poisonous.

The better known Bracket fungi would be the Ganoderma Lucidum cultivated to produce Ling Zhi, also called Reishi or Mannentake, a food supplement valued for its medicinal and tonic properties.

This species reputedly has been recognized as a powerful medicinal fungus having properties for promoting health and healing, strengthening the immune system, long life and even happiness. It was also mentioned that the Ganoderma Lucidum in medicine was considered so effective that its medicinal value has been written in ancient Chinese medical text.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Malaysia’s Butterfly – The Yellow Archduke (Lexias canescens pardalina)

I often see this species in shaded forest areas under tall trees and from what I have read is a forest-dependent species.

It belongs to the genus Lexias which are of large, fast flying butterflies.

The Yellow Archduke with its dark brown and yellow-spotted wings blends in well with the forest floor as it feeds giving it an effective camouflage against predators.

The strong body of the Yellow Archduke is capable of powerful flight, proven when disturbed, taking off rapidly with a few wingbeats.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Salvadori’s Pheasant (Lophura Inornata)

At first glance, it looks like a Malaysian red wild fowl? I almost ignore it, but look closer and you will see that it looks different it is actually a species of pheasant that is not supposed to be seen here. So what is this bird doing here?

I got no idea but here it is, the proof that there is at least one individual male Salvadori Pheasant roaming wild in the forest of Peninsular Malaysia.
I took this specimen’s photo at the Bukit Larut hill forest.
It is not supposed to be found here and is known to be endemic only to the mountain ranges on the Sumatran Island of Indonesia.
After talking to some friends who are more knowledgeable in birds, it is concluded that if this is not an introduced specimen than it would be the first native wild Malaysian Salvadori Pheasant photographed.
Literature available indicates this pheasant as vulnerable, declining and becoming increasingly fragmented owing to clearance of mid-altitude forests in Sumatra.

There seem to be no other documented wild sightings of this species of pheasants reported in Peninsular Malaysia. The pheasant’s Italian sounding name came from being named after a distinguished Italian ornithologist of the time, Tommaso Salvadori.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Directions to Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary (SBS)

I have been often asked on how to get to SBS, the following descriptions I hope will be helpful to all in finding your way there. Happy Enligthenment.

SBS is a Buddhist’s sanctuary where people aspiring to become trained Buddhist monk, devote time and effort in this pursue. This is also the place for people who seeks a more deeper understanding of Theravada Buddhism.

"Kuti" suitable for housing one individual.

Set in a scenic and serene environment it is without a doubt an ideal location for such an activity.
The varied and interesting flora that can be seen here.

This is my second trip up here, the last was about 3 years ago and since then I notice additional Kutis (an abode of a Buddhist monk or novice) built and the infrastructure have improved tremendously with newly constructed concrete roads leading up to the sanctuary.
The management of the establishment is also devoted, consisting of mostly volunteers and by the perception one gathers as you tour the place also doing it professionally.

The"Sima" - main hall.

Walkpaths linking to the various facilities.

Upon reaching the foothills of SBS through a road crossing the cemetery, you will come upon a Chinese Temple on the right next to a river.

The Chinese Temple at the foothills.

This is the point where SBS guides will normally meet up with you in their 4 wheel drives, you can park your cars here.
I am not sure of the links between the temple and SBS but knowing the local Chinese practise of religious syncretisms, there should not be any conflict.

SBS is not as easily accessible as one would think although any reasonably healthy person can walk up the rather hilly terrain, it is designated private property but at the same time I see no reason for them turning away genuine visitors at their doorsteps.

Other facilities - dining areas, administration building, etc.

Open stage where talks are given.

Organic farm.

However, the recommended manner in which a visit can be organised is contacting them in advance and they will most probably be able to arrange 4 wheel drive transport to the sanctuary including english speaking guides which is surprisingly widely spoken here, all at no charge, although some monetary donation in due time would be appreciated I am sure.

I would strongly advise visitors to wear proper footwear suitable for a bit of walking and light sweat absorbing clothing for comfort. Clean amenities like rest areas, toilets, dining areas are available in most part of the sanctuary. If it rains, which in Taiping is like every other day, do not worry, as they have ample supplies of umbrellas tucked away for visitors and guest. You should bring your own food and drinking water if required. The saying of “take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints“ applies here.

And no, I have no great visions nor ambition of being a Buddhist monk who is a vegetarian, eats one meal a day and that does not yet include other practises that I have totally no calling for.
I have been informed recently after posting the subject above that Buddhist monks are not necessarily vegetarians. My limited understanding of Buddhism (religion) and intepretation of what I had read and perceived was apparently wrong all this while..