Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A PERFECT VACATION (MINUS THE JOURNEY!)






The deep sinking feeling of aridness once again overwhelms my household. After seven whole weeks of sheer merriment spent with my beloved two eldest daughters, we are back with only three of us. My girls, by now, should have reached Volgograd for about 10 hours, probably still jet-lagged. I pray to Allah swt that He bless them with a fruitful 10 months ahead and ease them out of any predicaments.

During the last week they were here, which coincided with the school hols, the whole family members managed to squeeze a "3 days 2 nights" trip to Fraser's Hills, after much coaxing from Red and Mas. True to their words, Fraser's is indeed a place that makes one yearn to return. A small hill town (more of a village, I daresay), compared to Cameron's, it boasts an ambiance so peaceful and tranquilizing to the heart.

As to several of my prior holiday trips, the journey always pose as a hindrance, so much so, leaving me vowing quietly to never make a return visit. Tioman's choppy boat ride left me a total wreck. The bad road to Kuala Tahan was nothing to be desired, too. Now, the dwindling uphill road to Fraser's is another crying shame. For those who have sensitive vestibular organs like my daughters and I, negotiating the hair-pin curves, repeatedly, all the way up, was a head-spinning and nauseating disaster!

Anticipating an arduous journey, Sofi and Aliah, prepared themselves by sleeping early in the trip, all curled up, hoping to minimize the roller-coaster effect. Thinking that I have developed a certain kind of immunity, I braved through with only slight apprehension. Halfway through, I developed a sudden attack of nasal congestion, probably an allergic response to the kerbau meat I had earlier at a wedding. Made worse by the rising altitude and cold climate, I began having difficulties n breathing. The narrow road and gloomy weather contributed to the claustrophobic effect, reducing me into a nerve-wreck with an impending panic attack! Half irritated, hubby told me to relax as it was rather impossible to make a u-turn, panic attack or not!

After more than an hour of vertigo challenge, we reached the "hill station", as it was called a century ago by the British, whom, in search for cool climate, would scale the highlands of Malaya to find suitable spots for cool retreat. As history went, Mr Fraser was seen in the late 19th century with several mules, transporting tin ore through the hill treks. He was never to be seen again after that, thus the hill's name.

Occupying a 3 bedroom apartment in a resort perched on the hill-sides, surrounded by luscious green forest in the background and facing a majestic view of interlocking hills ala Shangrila upfront, we had a glorious family time together , immersed in joyful activities. We had barbeque for both nights, of marinated meat, prepared by the girls, from home. The ample balcony was truly apt for barbeque parties but unfortunately the very cool atmosphere and slight wind made it quite impossible to light the pit properly, thus we opted for the fire-place instead, which was quite a quaint idea after all.

With the cool breeze constantly blowing through the balcony door, we spent the night in a most relaxed manner. Some, having a game of scrabble which should be renamed squabble due to the amount of bickering the two opponents had. Some in great earnest, trying to finish Harry Potter's latest book. Mostly, we were lazing around watching whatever was on the TV. The barbeque tasted great, probably influenced by the holiday mood and also being famished after the trying journey.

Basically, Fraser's Hill consists of a small town center with several resorts, hotels and colonial styled bungalows scattered all over. the quaint small town is made up of a row of shops, a police station, a post office, a health clinic and a municipal office. In the middle is a clock tower that also serves as a round-about and a must photo-taking spot. All this is cloaked in a misty atmosphere, its beauty enhanced by the colorful flowers that thrive well in the cool temperate. Many of the old buildings here are colonial styled with white-washed brick walls, accentuated with black window and door frames. this must have been a vain attempt by the colonial British to create an atmosphere similar to their hometown.

Within the two days , we managed to scour almost all the important spots in Fraser's, taking the main route many times in a day. Of them, my favorite would be the Ye Olde Smokehouse, a name I find very amusing to pronounce. An old English bungalow, converted into a posh restaurant with rooms for accommodation plus an interior so overwhelmingly Christmas-like in atmosphere that a background music of jingle bells would have completed the mood. I read that one should not miss the scones which was rated as scrumptiously good. They, however forgot to mention that the price was exorbitant! For a set of 2 measly scones, accompanied with clotted cream, home-made jam, butter and a cup of tea (BOH tea!!!), they made us pay RM 18!! And the scones were nothing to shout about, really. I suspect they were not freshly baked as touted but frozen and microwaved when needed. Nevertheless, having tea, English style in such an appropriate ambiance is an awesome experience to cherish.




There were several trails that traverse the hilly town. Bishop's Trail became well known a few years back when 3 Singaporean youngsters got lost in it. It took us 45 mins to walk through it and indeed it was a challenging pathway with many obstacles that include walking on narrow ledge and not to mention the teeming leeches. As we went deeper into the forest, we could here a group of Baboons making jungle calls and I can't help envisaging them attacking us. Alas, it was the leeches that got the better of us. Numerous succeeded in attaching themselves to our lower limbs. Sofi had a few in her shoes!

Worth mentioning are the tarantula's nests found in relative abundance along Ledgeham Road. These hairy spiders make burrows in the hilly banks of the road. When observed closely, you'll find old brown leaves neatly lining the opening which is often covered with a cobweb. Tarantulas only leave their nests late at night, thus for spiders enthusiasts, this would mean having to bear the eerie possibilities of encountering other spooky beings as well.

Apart from the strenuous journey up and down, Fraser's Hill is a perfect retreat spot for nature lovers who pine for a peaceful hill-top getaway. Already, I am sensing that somebody is planning a revisit. In fact, I might just retract my vow of not wanting to come back. However the next time, I would be more prepared with Stemetil, asam and all! And oh yes, this time I'd prepare the scones from home as well!



Friday, August 17, 2007





THE LONELY TRIUMPH OF BAKAWALI

Do you know the great bloom of Bakawali?
Beautiful splendor in the night,
Amidst dark quietness, all so lonely,
Its whiteness, all so bright.

Unfolding its fragile petals,
In a glorious and elegant fashion,
Exuding mystical charm,
Emitting a fragrance so poignant.

When its bloom has reached its height,

All its petals opened wide,
So turgid, so upright,

Tresses of filaments, flowing wild.


Alas, the great bloom of Bakawali,

Unclasps its resplendent beauty, a few hours only,

When midnight looms, it starts to droop,
Wilting rapidly, losing all its glory.

Why the name Bakawali, I mused?

Perhaps its the night tryst, I gather,

Emulating a 'wali's night prayers,

Forever seeking Allah's pleasure.



Two nights ago, Mak Itam alerted us that her Bakawali plant was going to bloom that night.
Not one but ten beautiful brilliant white flowers! Mak Itam said that this was the most number of blooms so far. We rushed to her place as the flowers are known to only bloom for a few short hours and will droop immediately around midnight. When we arrived, they were already blooming handsomely as though luring us to be near them.

The flowers were speckless white with a yellow tinge in the center. Each consisted of many feathery petals
with abundant strips of filaments flowing from its middle. One can easily catch the exuberant fragrance coming from them as one passes nearby. However as one sniffs directly into the flowers, the odor is much more sweetly pungent. In fact Sofi remarked that the smell reminded her of kenanga which she somehow associated with an eerie emotion unlike that of the milder odor of melor or chempaka. They spent a significant time focusing, using a flash and mini spotlight as the lighting at night was poor.

Later, we sat chatting with Mak Itam over black coffee and jemput pisang. When we left
it was almost 12 midnight but the flowers were showing minimal signs of drooping. Thanks Mak Itam. The sight was simply breathtaking!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A CRYPTIC ACCOUNT OF A LIFE EPISODE.....

Have you ever faced a terrible predicament but able to evade it with a good and truthful alibi? I experienced it yesterday and the feeling was so exhilarating! If only I could execute it more often. If only...

....AND THE TOXOPLASMA IN US!

Anyway, the alibi turned out to be enjoyable as always. We spent quality time playing with cute feline beings and discussed several issues pertaining to them. Ma'am (Jo Kontan's wife) related to me recently about her niece who was diagnosed with toxoplasmosis, presenting with visual disturbances (central scotoma). So toxoplasmosis was the heated topic last night, :p

Refreshing up my knowledge on it, I surfed the net and discovered some very interesting facts. Here are some mind-boggling info:

Biological modifications of the host
The parasite itself can cause various effects on the host body, some of which are not fully understood.

Reproductive changes
A recent study has indicated Toxoplasmosis correlates strongly with an increase in boy births in humans.

Behavioral changes
It has been found that the parasite has the ability to change the behavior of its host: infected rats and mice are less fearful of cats - in fact, some of the infected rats seek out cat-urine-marked areas. This effect is advantageous to the parasite, which will be able to sexually reproduce if its host is eaten by a cat.

The findings of behavioral alteration in rats and mice have led some scientists to speculate that toxoplasma may have similar effects in humans.The behaviors observed, if caused by the parasite, are likely due to infection and low-grade encephalitis, which is marked by the presence of cysts in the brain, which may produce or induce production of a neurotransmitter, possibly dopamine, therefore acting similarly to dopamine reuptake inhibitor type antidepressants and stimulants.

"In populations where this parasite is very common, mass personality modification could result in cultural change. [Variations in the prevalence of Toxoplasma gondii] may explain a substantial proportion of human population differences we see in cultural aspects that relate to ego, money, material possessions, work and rules." — Kevin Lafferty

Correlations have been found between latent Toxoplasma infections and various characteristics:

* Increased risk taking behavior
* Slower reactions
* Feelings of insecurity and self-doubt
* Neuroticism (one of the Big Five personality traits)

(personal note: could it be that many of our politicians are infected with toxoplasma?)

Notable people with toxoplasmosis
* Martina Navratilova (tennis player) retired from a competition in 1982 with mystery 'virus' later found to be due to the illness
* Arthur Ashe developed neurological problems from toxoplasmosis (later found to be HIV-positive)
* Leslie Ash contracted toxoplasmosis in the second month of pregnancy
* François, comte de Clermont, is Dauphin of France, Orlean pretender to the French Throne. Both he and his younger sister Blanche are mentally disabled due to toxoplasmosis-related ailments.
* Louis Wain was a prominent cat artist who later developed schizophrenia which some believe to be due to his constant exposure to cats and thus Toxoplasmosis


Wow! And all that are caused by a microscopic protozoa that is shaped like a banana?? Masyallah! Maybe we should all check for toxoplasma antibodies in our blood ASAP!!
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