Merdeka Moments

MY MERDEKA DAYS in the past three years have been memorable ones.

On Merdeka 2013, we attended the wedding of a friend’s daughter held in UIA, Selangor. There were met up again with friends from our Moscow days. The last time we saw some of them was also during a wedding two years ago. (link)

Banquet Hall Cultural Activity Center, Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia… (Top, L-R) Aini and Nora; with Azah, Fadziana and daughter Izzah; Azman and Saim; (Bottom, L-R) Roslan, Din and Azman; M with Balqis and Nisha; the three friends in Moscow in 2007.

On Merdeka 2012, I was at a farewell lunch for a dear friend Jess in Sunway. She has since migrated with her family to Melbourne, Australia. I almost didn’t make it had it not been for WWL who took the trouble and gave me a lift. A bunch of us old schoolmates got together to catch up. When I say “old schoolmates”, I really meant OLD. Some of us have known each other for more than three decades. After the lunch, we updated other good friends abroad via emails where we wrote about “low mong” and “low far” (a private joke amongst us). And due to my “low mong-ness” I have no photos to share here. But I trust those who were there will remember this day for years to come. It was Merdeka day, after all. I did request for a group photo from LWK who took some. I haven’t seen any, perhaps she too has been inflicted with “low mong-ness” or she had trouble touching up all of us (which is another private joke)!

On Merdeka 2011, we inadvertently had a private dinner with angkasawan Datuk Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, also a friend we made during our Moscow days (link). To cut a long story short, we were invited to his raya open house; we missed it because little Em took a VERY long nap that day. We apologised to him for not being able to make it, he replied and asked us to come anyway. We turned up at his home just before 7pm and thought we got the wrong home as it was too quiet to be an “open house”. His guests had all left by then, so we ended up having some private time with him and his wife, Datin Dr. Halina Mohd Yunos and we also got to see their then-month-old daughter Bella.

M helping herself to the raya cookies while little Em got a little help from Uncle Sheikh; the girls with the lovely couple.

M helping herself to the raya cookies while little Em got a little help from Uncle Sheikh; the girls with the lovely couple.

merdeka_2011b

The girls each got an autograph with advice from Uncle Sheikh.

merdeka_2011c

Two other kids also got the angkasawan’s autograph.

Advertisements

50th National Day in Belgrade, Serbia, 2007

TODAY THE NATION celebrates 56 years of independence.

On this date six years ago, we were in Serbia. After spending four days in the spa resort of Ribarksa Banja (link) and an overnight stay in Budapest, Hungary (link), we returned to the city of Belgrade.

On 31st August, we joined in the celebrations of Malaysia’s 50th National Day hosted by Ambassador Dato’ Saw and Datin Jenny.

The Residence decorated with colours of the nation’s flag; a local dancer helped promote “Visit Malaysia Year 2007”; more advertisement banners put up behind the make-shift stage.

The Residence decorated with colours of the nation’s flag; a local dancer helped promote “Visit Malaysia Year 2007”; more advertisement banners put up behind the make-shift stage.

Belgrade_2

(Top) The host and hostess and the usherers; (Bottom, L-R) The food and the foreign guests.

Belgrade_3

(Top) The performers; (Bottom, L-R) The Ambassador; the guests; another picture with the Princess.

The Death of Diana

DIANA, PRINCESS OF Wales died tragically in a car crash on 31st August 1997 in Paris, France. In the October 1997 edition of Forward View magazine that I was a part of, we paid tribute to the late Princess. I also contributed the following cover story.

Forward View magazine, October 1997

Forward View magazine, October 1997

The Princess and I

There is no denying that Diana, Princess of Wales, had touched the lives of millions of people all over the world, more than she’d ever know and more than we had even imagined. For me she was “my source of inspiration” that got me through my Masters of Arts dissertation (on Media and the Monarchy) in the United Kingdom in 1996.

I admit that I, like many other teenage girls then, was firstly fascinated by her fairy tale wedding to Prince Charles, future King of England, on July 29, 1981. How could I forget the carriage procession that led her to the steps of St.   Paul’s Cathedral; her ivory silk taffeta wedding dress with its 7.7m long train as she walked down the aisle was quite a sight. And what was dubbed the “famous kiss” on the balcony of BuckinghamPalace, was as good as a seal of happy ending to any fairy tale. Some 750 million viewers had watched live the royal wedding, dubbed the “Wedding of the Century”.

My fascination with her led me to cultivate the hobby of starting a scrapbook on her. Every little picture of Diana in colour or black and white found in the papers and magazines ended up in my scrapbook. And it is through the years of “looking” at her that inspired me to take an even greater look at the people who brought her to the public – namely the journalists, photographers and those in the media industry – when the opportunity arose. Thus, the birth of my academic work (made possible under the generosity of the British High Commissioner/Chevening Award) on the British media and the monarchy, which looked at the treatment of the press towards members of the royal family, with particular attention to the Princess of Wales.

Upon her death, people were quick to point accusing fingers as to who caused her death, directly and indirectly.

The paparazzi were the first to find the noose on their necks. Seven of them were reported to be hot on Diana’s trail when the Mercedes she and her companion Dodi al-Fayed were in, crashed on that fateful day.

The media proprietors will never wash their hands off the blame either. As Diana’s brother Charles, the 9th Earl of Spencer, said in an immediate statement following the death of his sister, “It would appear that every proprietor and editor, every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy and ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana’s image, has blood in his hands today.”

Nor was the public at large spared. An Anglican archbishop was quoted in Canberra as saying, “Who should bear the guilt – those who harass and photograph, those who print or those who read?”

Not too long ago, Diana herself was the subject of accusing fingers for the state of the royal family she married into. She was always in full glare of the cameras and at the mercy of the media. She certainly would not have made the announcement to withdraw from public life in 1993 for no reason.

Media presence and intrusion proved to be too much strain for her that Queen Elizabeth was forced to make a request to the media to allow her some space. Media coverage of the state of her marriage to Prince Charles in the late1980s was one the reasons that prompted the British government to set up a Committee on Privacy and Related Matters in 1990 to look into press self-regulation which the British media enjoys.

Although there were considerable restrain by the media over personal privacy, the intrusive lens obviously could not sit idle. In May 1992, six photographers turned “peeping tom” and took pictures of the Princess stripping off at the pool side at the British Ambassador’s residence in Cairo, which happens to be the most heavily guarded quarters in Egypt.

Despite strong threats of legislation, the media appeared unperturbed. This was obvious when the Daily Mirror published photographs taken of the Princess while she was working out in a fitness club in November 1993. One can only read in disbelief why the culprit Bruce Taylor, owner of the club, had taken the photos with a hidden camera – “all out of love for Diana”; and then sold them to the Mirror and took off with the money!

In early January 1996, four freelance photographers on high-powered motorbikes, hunted the Princess down a darkened lane in London and caused her to break down in tears. Again, the Daily Mirror bought the photos and proudly published them under the headline “Picture Exclusive: Diana Weeps” claiming the photos demonstrated that the Princess was upset over her impending divorce.

These are just a few of the many cases of intrusion, if not gross intrusion by any standard. However, in what appeared to be too many media chasing after too few news, the scramble for royalty news had reached the level of harassment.

But all those are now in the past. Again, quoting her brother Charles, “Finally the one consolation is that Diana is now in a place where no human being can ever touch her again. I pray that she rests in peace.”

(Forward View, October 1997)

Postscript:

Had Diana lived, she would have been a grandmother today! (link)

Yangtze River Cruise, 1996

THIS WAS MY first trip to China back in September 1996. I went with my parents (and their friends) and an aunt. I had just returned from my postgraduate studies in the UK and had a little time remaining on my sabbatical leave before I resumed my job at a TV station. This trip also took us to the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Wuhan and Jingzhou (a prefecture-level city in Hubei Province), Chongqing and Guangzhou.

After the trip, I diligently did up two albums of photos of this trip, complete with captions and details of the places we went to. However, a few years ago, some of my photo albums were damaged due to poor storage. Thankfully I was able to salvage some of them, including these from the Yangtze trip.

Our 9-day journey began on 31st August 1996 at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, Subang. Our chartered place was however delayed and we finally took off at 1:30am on 1st September 1996. We arrived at the Shanghai International Airport, China, about 8:30am (there is no time difference between KL-Shanghai).

Day 1

At the Soong Ching Ling Residence and Mausoleum, Shanghai. Madam Soong was Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s wife (1893-1981).

At the Soong Ching Ling Residence and Mausoleum, Shanghai. Madam Soong was Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s wife (1893-1981).

From Shanghai, we took a domestic flight to Wuhan, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, is the largest industrial and trading city in central China. We stayed the night in Holiday Inn, Wuhan.

In Wuhan, we visited the Yellow Crane Tower and the Chinese Rarestone Museum (newly opened in 1993), followed by dinner-cultural performance afterwards.

Day 2

Checked out of the hotel and headed to Jingzhou Museum, Jingzhou, 2 hours bus journey through villages and farms. The museum has a huge collection of cultural relics, many are national treasures, including the largest collection of ancient silk materials. The museum is also home to an almost perfectly preserved male corpse of a Han Dynasty official!

At the Jingzhou Museum, Jingzhou.

At the Jingzhou Museum, Jingzhou.

Yangtze_4

(L) A local guide briefed the group about ancient coffins in the Exhibition of Ancient Corpses & Its Burial Artefacts in Jingzhou Museum; (R) For 7 yuan per person, we were entertained to a 15-minute cultural performance by staff of the museum.

Bingyang City Tower, Jingzhou; view from the top of the tower.

At lunch time, we boarded Princess Elaine at Yichang bound for Chongqing. Our journey on Asia’s longest river and third longest in the world at 6,418km, covered a distance of over 200km. Our upstream journey along Yangtze River – from Yichang to Chongqing – took four and a half days; compared to the downstream journey which takes three days. Princess Elaine is one of the three German-made ships of Regal China Cruises fleet built in 1993 (the other two were Princess Jeannie and Princess Sheena).

About to board Princess Elaine; some members of the group wasted no time in enjoying themselves out on the deck.

(L) About to board Princess Elaine; (R) Soon after, some members of the group wasted no time in enjoying themselves out on the deck.

We were met on board by Kevin our river guide and a band made up by the ship crew. For the record, there were only 26 passengers on board the ship that could accommodate 258 passengers. Apart from our group of 18, there were three Canadian couples and an American couple. We were told that the ship crew totaled more than 100!

On our first night on the cruise, we stayed up past midnight to witness the ship lock at the Gezhouba Dam. The massive 70-m high dam arrested Yangtze’s flow and forced all shipping up and down the gorges to pass through one of its three ship locks. The water level in the dam rose 60 feet in just 12 minutes. It was the largest dam in China till the Three Gorges Dam was scheduled to be completed in 2009.

Day 3

We cruised passed the Xiling Gorge which zigzags for 76km. It is the longest and said to be historically the most dangerous of the Yangtze Gorges.

Sceneries along Xiling Gorge.

Sceneries along Xiling Gorge.

Just before lunch, we anchored briefly at the entrance of Wu Xia Gorge @ Witches Gorge, the middle Yangtze Gorge that stretches 40km. Here we went on an excursion to the Lesser Three Gorges in Wushan – the Dragon Gate Gorge (3km), Misty Gorge (10km) and Emerald Gorge (20km) – voted as one of the top 40 tourist attractions in China in 1991.

An excursion to the Lesser Three Gorges on a motorised sampan.

An excursion to the Lesser Three Gorges on a motorised sampan.

Day 4

An early start with the wake-up call at 6:30am. By 7am, the ship approached Qutang Gorge @ Wind Box Gorge, the last of the Three Gorges. At 8km, it is the shortest but grandest of them all. Significant sites along the 20-minute passage are Bellows Gorge, Hanging Monk Rock and Meng Liang Stairways.

(Top) We had an early wake-up call and managed to catch the sunrise; (Bottom) Dad enjoying the morning breeze while the ladies were contented indoors.

(Top) We had an early wake-up call and managed to catch the sunrise; (Bottom) Dad enjoying the morning breeze while the ladies were contented indoors.

At about 4pm, we passed Wanxian @ Gateway to East Sichuan. The city, apart from Yichang and Wuhan, was most affected by the building of the Three Gorges Dam. Two thirds of its 1.2 million populations were relocated.

(L) Cruising past Wanxian, Dad with our guide Kevin, a Nanjing University graduate; (R) In the background is a bridge, under construction along with new roads and buildings further up the mountain.

Yangtze_12

Every meal was a feast… more reasons to hit the gym!

Day 5

We woke up to find Princess Elaine already anchored at Fengdu @ Ghost City since the break of dawn. A shuttle bus took us to Feng Du Ming Shan, the site of a temple rich with local folklore, history, legend and superstitions, and popular with tourists since it was declared the Three Gorges tour district in 1982. (However, despite being located on a hill, part of Fengdu is reportedly submerged in water when the Three Gorges Dam project was finally completed and fully functional in 2013).

At the foot hill of Fengdu before taking a chair lift (RMB12) up to the hill.

At the foot hill of Fengdu before taking a chair lift (RMB12) up to the hill.

Yangtze_14

(L) Testing the authenticity of money – a big basin of water was normally kept by shopkeepers, into which customers threw their coins. If they sank, they were genuine; if not, they were ghost money and therefore, not accepted. I threw a 20 sen coin into the basin which hit the target – a bowl at the bottom, an indication of luck! Others tried but were unsuccessful; (R) Mom & Dad posed by the Xing Chen Dun, a stone believed to be capable of “telling” the good and the bad. It is said that if a man could lift the stone and place it on the tip, it means he is a good husband, otherwise, he is believed to have been unfaithful! A few of the men tried, none could lift an inch! Apparently there was a certain way of lifting the stone, as demonstrated by a local later.

We returned to the ship for lunch. Later in the afternoon, the group was given a tour of the Bridge, the workplace of the Ship Captain and his crew. In any normal circumstances, there would be at least five people on the Bridge. At 6pm, the Captain hosted a farewell party for passengers on the sun deck.

(L) A privilege visit to the Bridge; (R) Relaxing on the deck.

(L) A privilege visit to the Bridge; (R) Relaxing on the deck.

Yangtze_16

A group photo of members of our tour group.

(L) The Captain’s farewell party on the sun deck; (R) Our last dinner on board at 6:30pm, followed by a film show at 8:30pm, and a cultural performance-cum-farewell dance in the Jade Ballroom.

(L) The Captain’s farewell party on the sun deck; (R) Our last dinner on board at 6:30pm, followed by a film show at 8:30pm, and a cultural performance-cum-farewell dance in the Jade Ballroom.

Day 6

Princess Elaine anchored at Chongqing by 7am as we were having breakfast. We disembarked at 8:45am, and went on to visit Chongqing Museum and the Dinosaur Museum. Chongqing, located in eastern Sichuan, is surrounded by mountains.

(L) A picture outside Renmin Hotel which resembles a grand palace and is a landmark of Chongqing; (R) Dinner of Sichuan’s popular spicy hot pot steamboat. We were fascinated by the teapot which looked more like a garden watering can!

Yangtze_19

A visit to Chongqing Zoo to see pandas which are natives of Sichuan province.

Day 7

(L-R) At Eling Park (built 1909); Liangjiang Pavilion; Yellow Hill where Guomindang head General Chiang Kai-shek built his war-time residence.

(L-R) At Eling Park (built 1909); Liangjiang Pavilion; Yellow Hill where Guomindang head General Chiang Kai-shek built his war-time residence.

Checked out of Holiday Inn Yangtze Chongqing, and took a domestic flight to Guangzhou; arrived late afternoon and checked into Garden Hotel.

Day 8

(Top) The People Memorial Hall, Guangzhou; Bottom (L-R) The Five Rams Sculpture and Five Fairy Statue in Yue Xiu Park; the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall built in 1925 to commemorate the 1911 Revolution hero, upon his death.

(Top) The People Memorial Hall, Guangzhou; Bottom (L-R) The Five Rams Sculpture and Five Fairy Statue in Yue Xiu Park; the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall built in 1925 to commemorate the 1911 Revolution hero, upon his death.

Day 9

Departed Guangzhou for home sweet home 🙂

Postscript:

Following this trip, I wrote an article entitled “Enchanting Yangtze River” (link) for a magazine a year later in 1997.

I had the opportunity to re-visit Shanghai (link) 12 years later in 2008, and Guangzhou (link) in 2009.

Ontario, Canada, 1998

HUBBY AND I embarked on a week-long journey to Canada back in 1998 when we were based in Washington DC, USA. For seven days from 30th August to 5th September, we drove a total of 1,500 miles (2,414kms), through Pennsylvania and New York, and made overnight stops in Ontario’s Kingston, Toronto, and Niagara   Falls.

Day 1: After eight hours on the road, we finally arrived on Canadian soil when we drove onto the Thousand Islands International Bridge, Ontario (that connects northern NY and south-eastern Ontario over St. Lawrence River).

1000 Islands… a thousand memories too.

1000 Islands… a thousand memories too.

Day 2: Spent the whole day in Kingston, Ontario’s oldest city that has played a key role in the history of Canada. Today it is still a leading port, and a major military and educational center.

(L) Just behind us are the Kingston City Hall, a beautiful neo-classical building built between 1841-1843, and the Confederation Park which opened in 1967 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. The Confederation Arch and Fountain symbolise Canada as a nation from sea to sea. (Information taken off brochure); (R) Queen’s University, one of the many beautiful limestone buildings in Kingston, which is also called the “Limestone City”.

(L) Just behind us are the Kingston City Hall, a beautiful neo-classical building built between 1841-1843, and the Confederation Park which opened in 1967 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. The Confederation Arch and Fountain symbolise Canada as a nation from sea to sea. (Information taken off brochure); (R) Queen’s University, one of the many beautiful limestone buildings in Kingston, which is also called the “Limestone City”.

canada_3

Went on the Kingston 1000 Islands Cruise on Island Queen III, a triple-decked 300-passenger Mississippi-style paddle-wheeler, which offered close-up views of the islands, ranging from mere points of rock to village-size (there were reportedly more than 1,800 islands!), though most can accommodate only ONE home or summer camp.

(L) Hubby placed a call on a public phone booth in the countryside to confirm our room reservation… phone booths like this one was a saviour in those days when mobiles were rare; (R) This picture was taken on Day 3 along the journey from Trenton and Brighton on Route 2 @ the Apple Route which offered scenic countryside views.

Day 3: Left Kingston first thing in the morning, headed for Toronto, the capital of Ontario. The name “Toronto” meant “place for meeting” for the aboriginal peoples in the 1600s. At noon, we saw the first signboard of Toronto. Checked out downtown Toronto and at night, Little Italy and Chinatown.

CN Tower, completed in 1976, was the world’s tallest building at 553m until the Burj Khalifa (in Dubai, UAE) was completed in 2010 at the height of 828m. The ticket showed the price for two (inclusive tax) was Canadian $23.73. While up there, we walked on the glass floor which made one feel like “walking on air”. I wouldn’t dare to do that today.

Views from the Tower.

Views from the Tower.

Day 4: We spent another half day in Toronto, checking out Eaton Centre, the old and new City Hall and Queen’s Quay Terminal near the Harbour. Also passed by SkyDome, the world’s first multi-purpose stadium with a retractable roof.

(L-R) At Queen’s Quay Terminal with CN Tower visible in the background. Queen’s Quay near Lake Ontaria is the start of Yonge Street, the longest street in the world that stretches almost 1,900km; SkyDome and CN Tower share a frame; Toronto Maple Leafs, an ice-hockey franchise based here.

(L-R) At Queen’s Quay Terminal with CN Tower visible in the background. Queen’s Quay near Lake Ontaria is the start of Yonge Street, the longest street in the world that stretches almost 1,900km; SkyDome and CN Tower share a frame; Toronto Maple Leafs, an ice-hockey franchise based here.

Day 4: Left Toronto at 3pm, drove past Hamilton and arrived at Niagara-on-the-Lake, also known as Canada’s prettiest town.

Elegant buildings and colourful flower beds make Niagara-on-the-Lake very pretty indeed! It is also home to the Shaw Festival.

Elegant buildings and colourful flower beds make Niagara-on-the-Lake very pretty indeed! It is also home to the Shaw Festival.

Day 4: Moved on about 7:30pm and travelled the Wine Route on Niagara Parkway towards Niagara Falls. The Wine Route is famed for its picturesque sceneries of vineyards. Got our first sight of the breathtaking illuminated Niagara Falls as we joined the lively throng of people at Clifton Hill headed towards the Falls within five minutes’ walk.

Day 5: Spent the whole day in Niagara Falls. From being labeled the “world’s most famous address” to “honeymoon capital” – Niagara Falls is all that and more!

A delayed honeymoon? Better late that never :-)

A delayed honeymoon? Better late that never 🙂

canada_10

Niagara Falls is a product of erosion, as explained in this diagram.

Journey Behind The Falls… takes one through an elevator to a tunnel and onto an outdoor observation deck to have a closer view of the thundering Canadian Horseshoe Falls; while another tunnel allows one to get a close-up view of the Falls from behind! See diagram below.

Journey Behind The Falls… takes one through an elevator to a tunnel and onto an outdoor observation deck to have a closer view of the thundering Canadian Horseshoe Falls; while another tunnel allows one to get a close-up view of the Falls from behind! See diagram below.

canada_12Day 6: Drove around the Falls vicinity in the daytime and at night, witnessed Friday Fall’s Fireworks, also in conjunction with Canada’s Labour Day (4 September).

(L) A whirlpool at the Great Gorge; (R) Ten Thousand Buddha Temple For World Peace!

(L) A whirlpool at the Great Gorge; (R) Ten Thousand Buddha Temple For World Peace!

canada_14

(L) Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens; (R) Floral Clock.

Day 7: Left Niagara Falls at 9am and home by 7:30pm.

Niagara Falls taken on the US side (5 September 1998); there’s a reason why it’s called a Rainbow Village… rainbows are a common sight at the Falls.

We drove away with vivid images of Niagara Falls and a thousand memories to look back on.

niagara_0 niagara_1 niagara_2 niagara_3