Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Durian: A Fruitless Pursuit.

Name the King of Fruit there is only one that comes to our mind – fruitcakes. Okay, I am kidding, the King of Fruit in Malaysia is definitely Durian.

Mention Durian, the mental picture that comes to my mind is a roadside makeshift stall, with Durian piled up from ground, often segregated into grades and with serious looking people smelling the spiky fruit and shaking it with intense look on the face no different than from nuclear scientist during a demo session.

These are connoisseurs who sneer at fans of apple, jeer fans of orange, and offer a very audible chuckle when you say you like Rambutan the best. These Durianites know which the better quality durian is by just staring at the damned thing as if they got X-ray vision. In short, they will kill me for that one thing that sets me apart from many Malaysians – I can’t eat durian.

In fact, I remember an ex-colleague of mine, Saravanan, giving me that strange look and proclaiming, “you don’t know what you are missing!” in the same tone one use when he tells his friends that the last boat from that marooned island has left. Well, apart from few tooth, I do know what I am missing.

The trouble is this: I can’t take the smell. Not that I keep using the work “can’t”, as opposed to “don’t”, or “won’t” or doodley-doo. It means, this is not a voluntary decision. I was forced to. In the words of Sivaji the Boss, “I was helpless, I was cornered”.

Why, well it all happened long time ago, when I was a kid when we had to walk to school for thirteen miles when there was no electricity when dad hunted woolly mammoth for lunch and when iPods were made of stone

That would roughly be about 18 years ago I would say. We were in the plantation, and it will irk some of you city folks out there (especially the rat maze township called USJ) that we used to get Durians for free! That’s right, and sacks of them.

In fact, there used to be a thing called Durian season. It was basically a season when the Durian tree decides, “alrighty, this f****** (they are rude apparently) fruit is getting heavy and I can’t take it any longer” and drops the spiky fruit right on top of a poor farmer’s head. Once the body is taken away, the fruit would be picked up for eating. Yeah, it’s the tree, not the materialistic, selfish, brutal, sadomasochistic mankind who invented nasal hair remover, who decides when the let the fruit go away.

That was then. These days, you can have durian anytime you want. It’s durian season all year long. Especially true in Singapore, as I found out during my five years stay in Singapore. I found out many other things I can share about that island, but I will have to kill you after that.

It’s also fascinating to know that the durian has been known and consumed in south-eastern Asia since prehistoric times or so says the wikipedia. It has known to the western world for about 600 years, about the time when the Dark ages started, I think. It further added that, “the earliest known European reference to the durian is the record of Niccolò Da Conti, who travelled to south-eastern Asia in the 15th century.” Along the report, he must have made this comment, “Holi Al Cappuccino! This shit stinks!”

Anyway, during one of those freebie durian periods, our house was teeming with relatives. Not sure why they were there, but I suspect the durian season must have something to do with it.

Well, I wanted an afternoon nap and found out that the rooms were all overtaken by some visiting uncles and aunties. It would have been lovely to drop the durian on them at that time, but except for torturing domestic lizards, I was anti-violence even then. And so, I ended up sleeping in the spare/store room where a sack of durian was kept. I slept for an hour.

When I woke up, I had fever and a terrible headache. Worst, the sticky smell of durian was in me, formed an aura outside of me, and made me a lot sicker. Till then, I was a regular Malaysian who loved durian, but the one hour spent breathing in and out the smell that is seen as foul by Westerners, had broken me. From then on, its smell troubled me. I would walk away, run away, like it is some sort of Kryptonite.

And so, it still haunts me to this day. Whenever there is Durian in my hometown or at my brother’s place when I am there visiting, I feel like a fruit pariah, not included in these special Durian eating session. Sometimes one of them would forget and offer me, and when I tell them the truth, they’d feel embarrassed, as if they’ve offered barbecued pork ribs to Buddhist monks.

And so I shall continue to move on in my life. What is life without Durian you say? Well, give me those damn barbecued pork ribs then.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sivaji Ganesan: A Force to be Reckoned With

Today marks the eight year since the passing of a brilliant stage and film actor named Sivaji Ganesan. A showman par excellence and screen performer whose fierce energy sometimes tears right out of the screen, big or small, and catches you by the throat, Sivaji Ganesan is not your average by the number hack actor looking to cash their paycheque or ply the trade for pride and glory.

No. Sivaji as he is known (real name V.P Chinnaiyahpillai Ganesan) was a born actor. Born to be the king of onscreen performances, at least in India. His towering talent was so great that it overshadowed many good, decent performers of his time and our time. He left such a mark that his works are still talked about in the mainstream media and forums; online websites, including blogs and forums. In a forum I regularly participate in, Forumhub.mayyam.com, the thread on him is one of the most popular, currently on fifth part (one part equals to hundred pages) and the fifth part alone is at 42nd page and has so far garnered 47,963 visitors! Bear in mind that most of the visitors of this forum are generation Xers and Yers, mostly who were born when Sivaji went into semi-retirement.

His films are eagerly snapped up in video stores and are still played on almost regular basis in the Malaysian satellite TV stations. His fandom has grown judging from the participation in that particular forum, where real film pundits who would sneer at Stallone and revere the likes of Goddard and Kurosawa would put aside their notion of what screen acting should be (underplaying mostly) and bow to the power that was and will forever be Sivaji Ganesan.

As a matter of fact, I would say that he had not been this popular, say, in the nineties, where they know him just as Kamal’s dad in Devar Magan, and the popular films that used by apologists to counter the often-criticised “over-acting” namely Muthal Mariyathai, and earlier classics like Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Karnan or Gauvravam.

I believe after his passing, there were an avalanche of “who is Sivaji Ganesan actually” curiosity, especially when one finds luminaries like actors Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan keep mentioning his name as a major influence. In fact, Rajinikanth has never failed to credit Sivaji as his inspiration. Once he said, “If I am king of style, Sivaji is the emperor of style”. Not only Rajini agreed to star in Sivaji Productions' Chandramukhi, there is an extended tribute scene in the film and he named the next mega project as Sivaji.

It may be coincidence, but it is certainly not something one should deny, of the emergence of two major powerhouse performers in Hollywood and the Tamizh film industries, namely Marlon Brando and Sivaji Ganesan. Both titans broke the conventional cinematic acting style and brought in raw energy, ruthless determination to inhabit the character they are playing and basically drawing awe from the co-actors, film crew and the audiences alike.

While Brando later squandered away his career life doing roles that ill-fitted his tremendous talents, and succumbed to discipline problem and ultimately losing interest in the craft, Sivaji went on to make one spectacular films after another, stumbling only occasionally when the script and the direction begs for quality. In that case, his body of work resemble the more prolific and professional actor who stands shoulder to shoulder to Brando, Paul Newman.

Like Newman, and more than Newman ever did, Sivaji attempted and succeeded at varying degree to play a grand array of characters actors these days can only dream of achieving…day dream, I mean. I need not repeat here the films and the characters he has done, it has to be seen to be believed. And trust me, being a huge fan, I must have only seen 70% of these “miracles”.

July 21, 2001 was one of the saddest days in my life. But every July 21st after that has been a day of pondering, rather than mourning; a day to revisit the miracles, rather than a day to lay wreath; a day to remember and acknowledge that the force that is Sivaji Ganesan was proven to be unstoppable, and even his death has never put a brake on it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Malaysian Tourism: Extreme Version

Looks like reading paper is the best way to annoy you. I was especially miffed when I read that tourism minister Dr Ng Yen Yen saying that more money is needed to promote Malaysia. Haven’t they spent enough already? Also, it’s ironic because her name has Japanese currency in it, and that too twice.

I say this: change your strategy. The tagline “Malaysia Truly Asia” is corny, cheesy and Nasi Lemaki if you ask me. I mean, you don’t see the Great Britain going "Britain Truly Europe". No, it is more likely to be “Britain: Our National Dish is Chicken Tikka Masala”.

Now, I’d say, let’s look at the other side. Let’s look at the extreme side, now that extreme sports, extreme TV reality show and extreme politicking are “in”. I’d promote Malaysia this way: Malaysia, For Your Extreme Experience.

Hee are some of the activities and events the tourist can participate:

Extreme Snatch Thief

Here, we encourage the tourists, especially the female ones, to walk around in the city with handbags and expensive Jewellery. Enough to attract snatch thieves, the tourists can play tug o’ war with the criminal, and win if he or she managed to bring the snatch thief down. The prize will be in form of watching the crowd pummel the thief senselessly. On a good day, we can have a casualty or two, from either team. There won’t be police intervention, because they are busy with…

Extreme Snap Polls

I lost the number of snap polls we have been having since the last general election. People’s representatives are keep dying or quitting or both. Looking at the tension both ruling party and the opposition are having, no thanks to their hatred for each other no matter what one does, it is liable that one after another representatives would die of stress or quit altogether, causing many more snap polls to come. Snap poll election campaigning would be perfect tourism event for foreign tourists. They can witness the spectacle of hate speeches, the merry satiric singing and dancing, and on lucky days, breakout of riots or if the timing is right, experience the tear gas and water cannon, courtesy of ever obliging Federal Reserve Unit. Don’t worry about the police; they are too busy taking down police reports from both parties and independent candidates, all of whom are not unfamiliar with…

Extreme Cholesterol Ingesting

This is a Malaysian past time, we need to tell them. Drinking the tarik with extremely sweet milk, and fatty Roti Chanai, or Santan drenched Nasi Lemak is no longer a threat to Malaysians, considering that we have other threats like road accidents, dengue, and snakes or politicians or lawyers or these entire tree combined. Okay, the latter was cruel on my part, and I assure you some of my best friends are snakes. Get the tourists to go on The Tarik/Roti Chanai rampage; or Kopi-O manis/Nasi Lemak Bungkus odyssey and see who gets to knock the heaven’s door first. Don’t worry about the police; they are busy taking down politicians’ police reports. The survivors are the winners and therefore are invited to

Extreme Mat Rempit

Actually, “Extreme” & “Mat Rempit” are redundant. This will have to be planned carefully, and if possible should be combined with Extreme Snatch Thief event. If lack of budget for this, talk to UMNO Youth and rekindle their once upon a time romance with the Mat Rempits, and this time it’s not for the youth, but the whole country’s tourism, even if involves crashing some Malaysian made motorbikes. I need not say what activities likely to take place, but the likeliest thing is, there might be no surviving tourists after this. As for the cops, yeah, the same damn politician police reports again, so they’ll be late for dinner.

Now, ain’t that fun and shouldn’t that be how we promote our tourism. If you say it’s too violent, than I suppose you have not been to a “conventional” tourism event like the Thaipusam in Batu Caves.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cyclist in Dave's Blog.

Remember the article I wrote about the cyclist in diapers? Well, I sent the news to Dave Barry, the funniest writer I have read as he highlights stupid thing in his blog. He featured it here And he finds my name funny too. Good man.
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