Thursday, May 26, 2011

The roti canai man

I realised this morning that I have come to appreciate the roti canai man. I was at my regular mamak (Indian Muslim) shop near my house to buy my breakfast of roti telur bawang (flat bread with egg and chopped onion) and Milo ais kaw (thick iced Milo). I actually noticed that the roti canai man is an integral part of the mamak shop establishment.

Without him, it is hard to imagine how the mamak shop can function. I think the roti canai man could be really an icon in its own right. The skills he acquire to make the different types of roti canai really boggles my mind. They may look easy to acquire but I think they are actually very difficult skills to learn and I am not surprised the roti canai man would have spent most of his working life perfecting those skills.

Not to mention, the roti canai man is also required to know how to cook various other dishes also found in the mamak shop menu. One of the items would be my favourite - Maggi goreng mamak (fried instant noodles). I seem to get addicted to mamak food these days although they are not the best food choices - roti canai, thosai, chapatti and Maggi goreng mamak with one piece of fried chicken; topping off with either Milo ais kaw or teh tarik ais (iced pulled milk tea).

This is one of the advantages of being a Malaysian. The food choices are HUMONGOUS and you would get lost simply just trying to decide what to eat. However, the ubiquitous mamak shop would often be my top choice where food is concerned because it is one of the very few eating shops that you still can get a filling meal for under RM 5, in view of the current economic challenges.   

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How did you learn to read? by Tye Wuey Ping

How did you learn to read?
A few days ago, a friend of mine wrote an article in the column ParenThots in The Star newspaper about reading and young children. This article basically discussed about how young children acquire their reading skills, especially in the context of today's world where intense connectivity due to the emergence of the Internet related technology are playing a large part in the current generation of young children's life.

Although I am not a parent myself just yet, the article my friend wrote managed to provoke my thoughts about how I actually learned to read when I was young. Honestly, I don't remember how and when I first started learning to read. My response to her question would be similar to that of her husband's, “How would I know? I just did.”

Growing up in the 1980s meant that the generation of young children then never had the access to special reader's programmes and enrichment classes like the young children have today. I would say in fact, today's young children and their parents are spoiled for choice in choosing the method they want to use for the young children to learn how to read.

Those days, young children like me and my friend as well as her husband must have just picked any books or reading materials that caught our interest and we just learned how to read then. And yes, I did read most of the classic children tales like Three Little Pigs, The Little Red Riding Hood and The Sleeping Beauty, just to name a few.

Many of us then progressed to reading books that were the rage then, Enid Blyton, Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon, just to name a few. Mostly, the books those days were either borrowed from the school and public libraries or exchanged with friends. In fact, it was really fun exchanging the different storybooks with our friends and searching for them in the libraries then. As books those days were quite limited in terms of choices unlike today, I also read the newspapers and magazines that were the ubiquitous reading materials and available cheaply then.

These days, children get to choose what they want to read with many major bookstores mushrooming all over the country, especially in the Klang Valley. Yet you still get many children who are reluctant readers because they are more interested in the Internet and video and computer games, not to mention cable TV. The strange thing I find is that growing up in the 1980s, I was also exposed to playing video and computer games, also watching the TV but I did not get addicted to them like how some children are today. I would choose to read over video and computer games and even over TV shows too then. Books and interesting reading materials were better at holding me spellbound than video and computer games and TV shows then and they still do even now.

I guess reading is one of those simple activities I value immensely over many other material things in life, except for buying good and quality books and reading materials. Maybe because I realise that the value of the knowledge I would acquire is extremely immeasurable. And the knowledge I have acquired since young through reading can NEVER be measured against all the money found in this world. Not to mention, the excellent proficiency in language (in this case, the English Language) I have gained through reading.  I think for people who REALLY love reading like myself would probably agree with me.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Exorbitant prices of books in Malaysia

An article about the launching of a locally published book in The Star newspaper yesterday, a local English daily has prompted me to write this blog post. The book, entitled Legacy of Honour by Zainah Anwar tells the story of three prominent and pioneering politicians in Malaysia. It is only a 287-page book and it costs RM 100! As an ardent book lover and a voracious reader, also a book collector, I find it somewhat RIDICULOUS to pay RM 100 for such a thin book. Never mind if the writer took 16 years to do research and write this book.

It is a hard fact that books, be they imported or locally published, their prices in Malaysia are extremely exorbitant to encourage more Malaysians to pick up the reading habit. A normal-sized paperback would cost at least about RM 35 to RM 40, and is usually not within the reach of struggling working-class Malaysians, including yours truly. But, much of the money I have saved over the years have enabled me to invest in good and quality books, usually imported ones but I would also consider good and quality local publications in which I am glad to say I have a few in my collection and am planning to buy more of them if I find them worth doing so.

However, for the not so fortunate Malaysians, many public libraries in the country are doing them a disservice for not upgrading their respective collections, to be moving with the times. That is why I have made the decision to have my own home library. And it is DEFINITELY an EXTREMELY expensive passion to do, building a home library but it is worth every sen invested in doing it.

Maybe it is actually quite costly to publish a book. But published books must be justifiably priced so that they can be more affordable and reachable to a wider population in the country. My guess is that most of the money would go to the publishers, as writers, especially the local ones are actually making peanuts despite putting an indescribable amount of effort, blood, sweat and tears to publish a quality book to appeal readers across the board.

The government especially should put in extra effort to encourage more local writers to publish their literary works in their language(s) of choice to further enhance the publishing industry as well as allowing the masses more choices on which language(s) they would want to choose to read, not just only in the national language. Also focus on published good and quality literary works should be given due emphasis and recognition. This could be some of the ways to encourage a well-read, knowledgeable, critical and analytical thinking society, a crucial step of achieving the status of a developed nation.

Maybe the idea of books being controlled priced items for both locally and foreign published ones could be mooted by the powers-that-be. Thus, this step could make it more affordable to readers across the board to buy books when they desire to do so. And definitely the public libraries needed all the help they can get to update their respective collection so that readers who cannot afford to buy books are able to borrow them, thus, instilling the desire to read in reluctant readers.

Where books are concerned, sometimes focusing on the profits from their sales only would not do justice to people like me. The knowledge acquired from reading good and quality books and not to mention other reading materials as well goes well beyond any amount of profits made from selling them. I say this from my personal experience as the knowledge I have acquired from being an extremely voracious reader is ABSOLUTELY PRICELESS beyond description.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: Anne Frank Beyond the Diary: A Photographic Remembrance by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven for the Anne Frank House

Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary - A Photographic Remembrance

Title: Anne Frank Beyond the Diary: A Photographic Remembrance
Authors: Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven for the Anne Frank House
Year: 1995
ISBN: 0-14-036926-0

Anne Frank Beyond the Diary: A Photographic Remembrance is a compilation by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven for the Anne Frank House and I think it is meant to be a complement to Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl. This book illustrates the life of the Frank family prior to and during World War 2 both in Frankfurt Am Main, Germany and Amsterdam, the Netherlands, based on Anne's diary entries.

Anne Frank was a 13-year old Jewish girl who resided in Amsterdam, the Netherlands during World War 2 whom had fled from Frankfurt Am Main in 1933 with her family, parents Otto and Edith Frank and elder sister Margot due to the severe persecution of the Jewish people by the German Nazi authorities. She had received a red-and-white checkered cloth-bound diary with its impotent lock from her parents on her thirteenth birthday on June 12 1942.

She began writing in this diary almost immediately and continued to do so when they went into hiding from the Nazi authorities on July 6 1942 when Margot received a call-up notice to be deported to Westerbork concentration camp on July 5 1942. Anne and her family went into hiding in an old house attached to Otto Frank's office located at 263 Prinsengracht, Amsterdam. Anne later dubbed this hiding place the Secret Annex.

Anne wrote the diary from June 14 1942 to August 1 1944. She mostly wrote about herself - her feelings, thoughts, physical and psychological changes and relationship with her family and other people, especially the van Pels family and dentist Fritz Pfeffer, whom all joined the Frank family in the same hiding place. Most importantly, Anne had managed to write about the happenings in the Secret Annex with uncanny accuracy. Besides her diary, Anne also wrote fictional stories told to her by Otto when she was younger.

The people in hiding at the Secret Annex were discovered as the final months of the war were approaching, i.e. on August 4 1944. Anne was 15 years old then. The Secret Annex was raided by the German Nazi authorities, headed by Karl Josef Silberbauer; they had been finally betrayed. To this day no one knows who had actually had betrayed them. Otto Frank was the only survivor of this horrific experience, out of the eight people hiding in the Secret Annex. Anne and her sister Margot died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, just weeks before the camp was liberated by the Allied forces the following April.

This book revealed that there were some prisoners who managed to talk to Anne and Margot during their final months in Bergen-Belsen before both girls died; amongst them was a childhood friend of Anne, Hanneli Elizabeth Goslar. Apart from this, it also revealed the painful journey of Otto in searching for the whereabouts of Anne and Margot as well as that of his wife Edith, and he was finally being informed of their deaths in July or August 1945.

It was only then, Miep Gies, one of the helpers to the people hiding in the Secret Annex gave Otto pages to Anne's diary, which she had managed to save them from the clutches of the German Nazi authorities when the Annexe was emptied on the orders of the German Nazi authorities one week after it was discovered and raided. Otto then painstakingly embarked on the journey to publish Anne's diary as well as establishing the Anne Frank House at 263 and 265 Prinsengracht, Amsterdam to spread the message in Anne's diary to the world. This book also discussed the issues of anti-Semitism and anti-racism in the contemporary context, which is still very much relevant today.
I would highly recommend this book especially to readers who have read The Diary of a Young Girl. Even readers who have not read the diary would find this book to be an interesting and appropriate introduction to The Diary of a Young Girl. Apart from this, Anne Frank Beyond the Diary: A Photographic Remembrance could serve as an excellent reference to the history about the Holocaust as Anne Frank is the symbol of the estimated six million Jewish people murdered during World War 2.

I am not a big fan of Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl but I have read it and was intrigued by the unanswered question who had actually betrayed the people hiding in the Secret Annex. Although this book did not provide the answers to this crucial question, however, it comprehensively covered the life of Anne Frank and her family and issues related to anti-Semitism and anti racism. The best part of all is that I had bought this book at The War Memorial in Canberra, Australia while vacationing there with my parents back in 1996; an unlikely place on the Earth for me to have bought a book.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: The World of Anne Frank by The Anne Frank House

Title: The World of Anne Frank
Compiled by: The Anne Frank House
Year: 2003
ISBN: 0-330-39382-0 

The World of Anne Frank is a compilation by The Anne Frank House of Anne Frank's life in relation to the historical events taking place during World War 2 with regards to the persecution of the Jewish people in Europe, commonly known as the Holocaust. Anne Frank was a 13-year old Jewish girl residing in Amsterdam with her parents, Otto and Edith Frank and her 16-year old sister Margot.

Anne Frank and her family went into hiding on July 6 1942 when the Nazi authorities issued a call-up notice to Margot to be deported to Westerbork concentration camp on July 5 1942. Defying their orders, Otto decided for his family to go into hiding in an old house at his office located at 263 Prinsengracht, Amsterdam; later dubbed by Anne as the Secret Annexe. 

Anne first started writing a diary shortly after receiving a red and white checkered hard cover bound diary from her parents for her thirteenth birthday on June 12 1942. She continued to fill this diary, even when in hiding, chronicling the daily happenings in the Secret Annexe as well the development of her physical and psychological well-being with uncanny accuracy. Besides this, Anne also wrote some short stories based on the stories told to her by Otto when she was younger. She also divulged the hope in seeing the war come an end as she feels that out of all bad, some good things still would come, also to her there are still many good people out there she could count on.

Apart from chronicling Anne Frank's life against the backdrop of World War 2, this book also discussed the issues of anti-Semitism and anti racial in the contemporary context, and they are still very much relevant and applicable in this day of age. I also find this book useful as a teaching tool, specifically about the Holocaust and the World War 2 in general. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who have yet to read Anne Frank's diary, as this book serves the perfect introduction to Anne Frank and the world she had lived in and as how she saw it. For those who have read the diary, it would further enhance their knowledge about the Holocaust and the horrific consequences it had brought to humanity, and that anti-Semitic and anti racial sentiments definitely have no place in this world, even at this day of age.

The World of Anne Frank is suitable for readers of secondary/high school age onwards. Adults readers would find this book very informative and also to complement Anne Frank's diary, if they have read it. I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in history, especially about World War 2. Readers would not be disappointed by this book.    

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: Do you wear suspenders? The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim by Lydia Teh

Title: Do you wear suspenders? The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim
Author: Lydia Teh
Year: 2009
ISBN: 978-967-5222-08-5

Do you wear suspenders? The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim written by Lydia Teh is a story book with a twist. It is the story of Eh Poh Nim who is extremely loquacious with the use English Language in an out-of the ordinary way, i.e. in the form of similés, idioms, hyperboles and oxymorons, just to name a few. This book has been written in a very creative way and it actually can be used as a tool in English Language learning, especially from secondary school onwards.

For someone like yours truly who considers herself to be quite a good user of English Language, I found out that I still learned quite a bit from this book, especially the differences between similés, idioms and hyperboles where previously I admit I was very ignorant of them, although I have managed to use them correctly. I have also learned the different and actual contexts that these language elements can be used appropriately.  

Also, Teh has been able to write the story to reflect the multi-racial country Malaysia is, illustrating the candid and heart-warming situations many Malaysians would find often themselves in, using Eh Poh Nim and her family and friends to illustrate the everyday and colourful life they often lead, which make the book an interesting read.

I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy short stories written in a light and heart-warming manner. The bonus this book offers is that you get to learn the English Language in an unconventional but a very fun way, and it won't be a chore in learning the language. Last but not least, it's TWO thumbs-up yet again to Lydia Teh for writing such wonderfully entertaining book.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Royal Wedding - HRH Prince William and Ms. Kate Middleton

Dateline April 29 2011. The day has come for the Royal Wedding of HRH Prince William and Ms. Kate Middleton, touted to be the wedding of the decade, if not the wedding of century. I am not a fan of the British Royal Family but somehow, this family does have some mystic that piqued my curiosity about them. Especially since the horrific death of Prince William's mother, the late Princess Diana on August 31 1997.

I don't think many people would forget the image of the then 15-year old Prince William and his then 13-year old brother Prince Harry walking behind the hearse carrying the late Princess Diana's coffin during the funeral procession to Westminster Abbey back in 1997. And I am quite sure that many of us, including yours truly have hoped to see both princes would grow up into great adults, which they have had, and in good time too. 

They have indeed grown up away from the extremely prying eyes of the media that was seen as the main cause for Princess Diana's untimely demise. This Royal Wedding I think is an appropriately happy note in Prince William's life. And I think the late Princess Diana would have approved his choice of marrying Ms. Kate Middleton, a commoner with the right qualities to be the consort of the future heir to the British throne.

As the relationship between Prince William and Ms. Kate Middleton was nurtured away from the prying eyes of the media while both were studying in University of St. Andrews, there would be a good chance that their life as a married couple would last. This is because that they were allowed the opportunity to live together and be able to test their relationship from various perspectives, including break-ups.

I do hope that this Royal Wedding will breathe a fresh air into the British monarchy. And that the British people would have better confidence in the monarchy as a part of the country's Constitution. It's definitely good to know that HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is the new generation of the Royal Family poised to bring positive changes to the perception of the British people. Like most people, I sincerely hope to witness a lasting married relationship between them both, a true fairy tale to the very end.