Saturday, July 28, 2007

smart kids

mensa is the world's largest, oldest & best-known high IQ society, according to wikipedia (read here). anyone, that means you & i, will be invited to join as members if they can attain a score within the top 2% of an approved standardized intelligience test.
who doesn't want to be a genious, right? & who doesn't want their kids to be labelled super-intelligent, right? (i can see a big show of hands out there!)
but i was amused when my daughter showed me a form handed to her by her piano teacher. it was an application to take the mensa test at a local school next week. the piano teacher's daughter will be doing the test, as will a few of her other similar-aged music students.
seriously, isn't 13 a bit too young to subject a child (yes, my girl is still a child to me) to a rigourous evaluation of logical, analytical & spatial questions, all 36 of them to be completed in 40mins.even the malaysian chapter of mensa international (read here) recommends a minimum age of 14. there's no upper age limit.
i could sense that the girl was a tad hesitant to go ahead, notwistanding an unconvincing "OK-lor" when i asked if she was keen to do it. peer pressure, i fear. after a little deliberation, we concurred that it was best she put it off a bit longer & do it when she really felt ready to face it.
on her own time. after all, she just wants to follow her father's footsteps.
i hid my smile.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

harry who?

i really don't understand what the fuss is all about.

firstly, people camping outside bookstores at 5am just to be the 1st few to get their hands on a book about a boy wizard. & when the stores are opened at exactly 7.01am, they leave their manners & decent upbringing at the doors, follow their animal instincts & trample over each other to entrap their inanimate prey.

secondly, the bookstores themselves argue over how much profit to fleece from the aforementioned misbehaving customers, ignoring the fact that books, unlike sugar & flour, have never been a price-controlled item.

like i said, i don't understand the ruckus, maybe because i'm neither a fanatic of the wizard nor ever harboured the thought of queuing up at unearthly hours for a book, or any book, for that matter. but i did thank my friend WW who sent me an email with a PDF attachment, labelled simply HP7. ah, the demons, i mean, pirates are at work already.

while oblivious to all that aggravation was taking place at the bookstores, i was embroiled in my own world of political manoeuvring & high drama - all for just RM8.

jeffrey archer, anyone?

**i personally believe that the misbehaving few who shoved & pushed form only a small minority of the book-loving masses**

Friday, July 20, 2007

the champ cometh?

when i was in school, my parents never fail to remind me to study hard. no need to join boyscouts, maybe play a few games, but must put studies above everything else. so, is it any wonder that i turned out to be a geek?

but i decided that's not how i want my kids to see regard this life - that study is to be 1st & last, & everything else in between. i would provide them opportunities to explore their inclinations, & perhaps discover a passion or a hidden talent.

so, the girl wanted to keep terrapins as pets when she was 8. we bought her a pair, but within months, it was the wife who had to feed the pets as well as clean the tub they were kept in.

when she was 10, she wanted to learn the violin because a few of her classmates were learning. again within months, the initial enthusiasm had waned. thank goodness, the violin was loaned on a monthly basis. that's when i realised kids have short attention spans, as well as fast-fading interests.

last year, when she decided to take up squash, i was not impressed. here we go again, i thought. so i got her a "cheap racquet"(her own words), in case this was another passing phase. after a few months, she was still playing with her classmates twice a week, & subsequently requested for a lighter & therefore more expensive racquet. i disagreed but the wife got one for her anyway, costing RM90 & weighing ....


on wednesday, the girl told me she had entered for the school beginners' squash competition to be held the next day. hmm, i thought, that should be interesting - at least, we will know if she had made any progress, or she's just playing for fun. oh, did i mention that she has been taking private coaching with her classmate since the beginning of the year?

i volunteered to go watch her play but she was uneasy with the suggestion. maybe, she'd feel embarassed if she lost in the 1st round. or maybe her friends would tease her : why, ah, your father so "kan cheong"(cantonese for overly concerned)? she must have been relieved that i got caught up at work instead.

when i called home in the evening, i was delighted to find out she surpassed all expectations to win the competition. hmm, maybe we have something here....

knowing her, i expect she'll be asking for that super-light racquet (RM300+, weight 120gm) that her friend had been parading. or, the super-cool reebok trainers (also RM300+).

or both. i can almost hear her argue her case : "you DO want me to win the school's closed competition, right??"

kids drive a hard bargain these days!! now, we'll have to wait & see what tricks the boy will come up with.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

most expensive fish in the world?

i'm not a connoisseur of fine fish, but i would think one would pay an exorbitant price for an exotic fish dish at a downtown restaurant in paris or tokyo, like the way beluga from the baltic could be considered staple for the rich & famous, by virtue of its price.

but i now beg to differ.

this 5 year old girl accidentally swallowed an ikan kembong bone the other day & came to hospital to have it removed. she had a general anaesthetic which effectively put her to sleep while her throat was examined.

there, lodged at the side of the throat, was the cause of her discomfort. everything was completed in less than 5 mins.
if this little bone, measuring about 1cm in length, is generously estimated to weigh about half a gram & matched with the hospital bill of.....

....RM1572.88, then by simple maths, the cost of eating this particular common & previously cheap fish, which will probably never find its way into the menu of the world's top chefs, would come up to a whopping RM3,145,760 per kg or USD415,666 per pound!!! even so, i doubt if Anthony Bourdain would be in a hurry to have his fish meal here.

for the record, the world's most expensive fish (read here), a bluefin tuna, costs a mere USD391 per pound, while the most expensive chocolate (read here) is sold by Knipschildt at USD2600 per pound. for burger aficianados, The Star recently reported (read here) that the matsusaka beef burger is sold at a Bangkok hotel for USD184 each. even gold in the open market is only USD666 per oz or USD10,656 per pound.

i think if i really want a simple, convenient, boneless, & therefore safer, fish meal, i'd go for that filet-o-fish at the neighbourhood fastfood joint. after all, you also get a super-sized potato side-dish & drink, all for a princely sum of RM8.00.

**this is meant as a cautionary reminder to all fish lovers, this medic included, to exercise due care while savouring our favourite dish**

Monday, July 09, 2007


other than work related matters, nothing will send a more uneasy chill down my spine than a letter from the taxman aka Inland Revenue Board. don't get me wrong, it's not that i've been stashing away funds in a swiss account, or that i'm into money laundering (although i could do with a little more spare cash). it's just that my previous experience with those guys has left me unconvinced that their current motto (Mesra, Membantu dan Memuaskan which translates to Friendly, Helpful and Satisfying) is a valid proclaimation of the IRB's work ethics. (please let me know if anyone ever has a satisfying encounter with them.) i personally feel that they should have embraced virtues like transparent, responsible & fair.

anyway, it was with much trepidation that i received a letter from them 2 weeks ago, conveying the bad news that i owe them tax for the 2004 assessment year. i honestly don't know how that can be when i have been contributing by monthly deduction since the self-assessment system was implemented that year. not only that, they demanded in their customary high-handed manner that the outstanding amount be paid within 30 days, or else!

regaining composure after few days, i rummaged through the old records & retrieved the relevant receipts. i mulled over the matter for a few more days & then proceeded to draft an appeal letter to the powers-that-be, quoting the receipt numbers & payment schedule.

i didn't have to wait long to meet the officer today. he was definitely friendly & helpful but the experience was far from satisfying. after keying in my tax file number & staring intently at the flat-screen - i was certain i didn't notice an enlightened look on his face - he finally pronounced judgement. i not only don't owe them anything, i actually have a few thousand ringgit of accumulated overpaid taxes due to me.

so, dare i ask - since everything is computerised & i owe them nothing, how is it that i STILL get a letter demanding payment? i did, & he said, with a sheepish smile, that the said letter was essentially an acknowledgement i had paid the said amount for the said year. really, encik? then how do you explain these words :

actually i didn't ask the 2nd question because, true to the friendly & helpful disposition the Board is trying to promote, the officer offered to help me appeal for tax refund. furthermore, my accountant friend never fail to remind me - never mess with the taxman because he can make your life miserable with a click of the mouse.

so that's my less-than-satisfying encounter with the taxman. if they had it in their computerised records all this time, why didn't they just return the excess tax voluntarily. it's right there on the screen - i saw it myself. like i said, they should now work on being transparent, responsible & fair.
transparent enough for ordinary folks like us to know FOR SURE what is & what isn't taxable, & not subject to the taxman's whim & fancy;

responsible enough to, willingly & without hesitation, return excess taxes that DO NOT belong to them;

fair enough not to mete out eager punishment without due consideration that most folks will pay.

however, i'm neither holding my breath expecting the aforementioned changes nor for my cheque to arrive.

Friday, July 06, 2007

building relationship with the senior citizens

the senior citizens in church were organizing their weekend-getaway & my family received an unexpected invite to join them. unexpected because, although we are from different care-groups & we do occasionally go out for meals, we never anticipated that we would join them for a mini-church camp.

the venue was prophectically named El Sanctuary Home Stay, at Alor Gajah in Melaka. True to its name, it wasn't an easy place to locate & i had missed the turning from the main road. after all, it is nestled in 8 acres of an old rubber estate.

after parking the car & taking a short uphill walk....

.....we were greeted with....

....wooden chalets built along the hill slope.

with a view like this from the dining hall... difficult is it to get back to nature?

the chalets have all the basic amenities, including en-suite bath/toilet with heater, as well as a hot/cold water dispenser. however, an air-con is NOT considered basic here. but i am impressed that in a place like this, amidst a forest of rubber trees, there are almost no mosquitoes!! the owner vincent later explained that he fogs the place regularly.

it's a family-run concern & they get perks/concessions from local govt & tourism authorities for the kampung homestay concept. vincent played the role of the consummate host with ease, reminiscent of the friendly hospitality extended by B&B's in the english countryside. his wife anne is an excellent cook, conjuring up tasty dishes served with brown rice.

meals are served in a spacious open-air dining hall...

.....everyone, young & senior, tucking in.....

...furnished to look rustic with wood-based decor.'s this for a back-to-basic sink - copper pipes & earthen pot.....

.....a gong placed just outside the dining hall is used to announce chow-time, & doubles as a toy for the kids...

chalet #8 is where we spent the night - kampung-style

a stone-paved path leads to the meeting hall located below the dining hall....

...the entrance with a overhanging sign that bids a warm welcome..

the hall (with air-con) can comfortably seat 80, but we number only 20 that morning...

..the senior guys leading song service.

the beach is always a hit with the kids - in this case, pantai kemunting just 20mins drive away...

...especially when you can release little turtles....

...back to sea...

...thanks to the efforts of the local turtle management/hatchery centre....

...where the endangered species are bred in captivity...

tell me, when you are afflicted with the agony & anxiety of urban living.....

....wouldn't a sanctuary provide sweet solace & respite?
"LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?" psalm 15:1

Monday, July 02, 2007

free cash?

Thank you, RHB bank!!

i received the bank's latest Travel Money credit card last week with no annual fee for life plus RM25K monthly limit to boot. i feel rich! i feel good!

except that the card does NOT belong to me.

i totally, totally fail to understand how the bank can send someone else's credit card to my address. on the accompanying acknowledgement document, the name & address are even different from mine, & yet the courier company delivered it into my letter-box WITHOUT anyone signing for it.

is this a comedy of errors? or did someone foul up BIG TIME?

i'm not worried about the other guy because i cut up the card & returned the pieces to the bank. what troubles me is - what happens if my card ends up with someone else, who gleefully goes on a spending spree at my expense?? the bank says all new cards will have to be activated first - you know, that's the part they ask for your IC and mother's maiden name - but i understand from inner banking circles that this procedure can easily be circumvented.

so, you want to apply for a new, free-for-life card with increased spending limits?

in the meantime, Stephen of Klang, you have 25,000 good reasons to consider cancelling your card application.

and, by the way, even without RM25K credit at my disposal, i still feel good.