Archive for February, 2016

In Awe of Batu Caves

February 28, 2016 Leave a comment


Last weekend my friend and I made a trip to Kuala Lumpur to visit the Batu Caves.  Batu Caves is a limestone series of caves and cave temples located in Gombak district; 13 kilometres (8 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur. After reaching at the new bus station TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan), we hopped on to the KTM and Batu Caves is the last stop on the route.

Right outside the caves is a giant statue of Lord Subramanya or Lord Murugan which is 140ft tall.  The statue, which cost approximately RM2,5 million,  is made of 1550 cubic metres of concrete, 250 tonnes of steel bars and 300 litres of gold paint brought in from neighbouring Thailand.  It took 3 years of construction and unveiled in January 2006 during Thaipusam festival.

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There are 300 steps leading up to the temple and the climb is not easy for older people.  Outside there are a lot of pigeons.

The caves consist of the Temple Cave, Dark Cave and the Art Gallery Cave. Stalactites jutting from the cave’s ceiling and stalagmites rising from the floor form intricate formations such as cave curtains, flow stones, cave pearls and scallops which took thousands of years to form.

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From the top, you can get a birds eye view of the area. The steps and the surrounding rocks are lined with macaques (monkeys).

However once one gets inside the temple, you get to see the amazing limestone rock formations which have been preserved intact.  When we got to the temple, we could witness the offering to Lord Murugan which was done with music and pomp.


The Batu Caves attracts visitors throughout the year, particularly during the annual Thaipusam festival when the temple complex – the most popular outside India – becomes the focal point for over 1.5 million pilgrims.

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The limestone rocks which are 100m high and 400m long are awesome and are of different formations.  .

In recent years the caves and surrounding hills have become the centre for Malaysian rock climbing and the site offers over 160 routes of various grades.

Categories: Books

Durian – The polarizing fruit

February 26, 2016 1 comment




The Durian is one of the most polarizing and controversial fruit.  Take the name of ‘durian’ and you can divide your audience into two instantly.  Those who swear their love for it and those who will vanish at the mention of it.

Anthony Bourdain calls it  “indescribable, something you will either love or despise…Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.”

Food writer Richard Sterling has written “its odor is best described as…turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.”

In Malaysia, durian farmers wear helmets to protect them from a potential spike-bomb. Malaysians also believe that durian is an aphrodisiac. When the durians fall, the sarongs go up, goes a Malaysian saying.

The fruit’s flesh is sometimes eaten raw, or is cooked and used to flavor a number of traditional Southeast Asian dishes and candies. It’s also used in traditional Asian medicine, as both an anti-fever treatment and a aphrodisiac.

The durian – shaped like a rugby ball is so spiky that it can prick your hands if you are not careful.  It is banned from flights, hotels and trains in most South east asian countries. Carrying a durian into closed or confined spaces can get you lot of attention and scowls or eviction.

There are durian lovers in Singapore who can have a meal of only durian.  They will travel far and wide, to get the top grade durians on offer and savour the custardy durians.

A durian lover knows it all – how to identify the best durian from the colour of the exoskeletion, the angles of the spikes, the texture of the flesh etc.   They will swear that it has the wonderful flavor of sweet, savory and cream all at once and it is not so disgusting after all.

And those on the other side of the fence will spit, scowl, squirm and make their aversion evident to the point of puking.

Categories: Books

Learning to Unlearn

February 24, 2016 Leave a comment

(This is the script of the speech that I delivered at Bishan TM Club’s International speech & table topics contest)

When I was in primary school, during recess, this man used to come near our school compound to sell icecream.  He rang the bell and shouted icecream – come on boys.  His smile lit up his face and we all enjoyed the different colours and flavours of the icecreams.

Contest chair, judges and fellow toastmasters –

My parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said – I want to sell ice cream.

In kindergarten  I  learnt  A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat . Then in mathematics I learnt about limits, derivatives and integration. In Physics bernoulis principle and schrodingers equation.  In chemistry enthalpy and entropy.

Codes and equations had become a part and parcel of my life.

When I started working as an Engineer – I realised that very little of these codes, these equations were applied in my daily job.

After marriage you may think  that there would be no more codes to learn.  But I realised that the codes are more cryptic .  Like when your wife says : Do you love me? (she  actually means – I am going to ask you for something expensive)

I realised that the only way to learn anything in life is to decodify my life – to start the process of unlearning unlimited.  To give equal focus to skills like communication, music, leadership, volunteering and leading an active healthy life… to achieve that balance between my work life and my family life.

The face of that ice cream man still remains vivid in my memory.  He had no qualms or worries.  His only aim was to serve the best icecream to us and enjoy doing this.

Why do we have to become someone…why cant we just be…be ourselves.  We are like actors donning costumes and playing roles from morning to night.  Starting from a father or a husband at home .. to a subordinate or a boss at work, an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer.

Today, I think most kids graduate only knowing if they’re good at school or not. Often our students have many talents; they just don’t fit in our current curriculum because their talents are likely not considered “real knowledge.”

According to the Partnership for 21st century skills, an advocacy consortium whose members include Apple, Microsoft and Intel, “There is a profound gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need in typical 21st century workplace.

Today there are many problems that need immediate attention on a large scale – climate change, renewable energy sources, education for the masses and poverty just to name a few.  The key to solving such  complex problems—will require critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

Apart from classroom learning – there are life skills like character, empathy, teamwork and resilience which are only developed through real-life experience.

Just before the Chinese new year I joined SGCares home maintenance to clean the homes of some people who live in 1 room homes with government subsidy.   I feel that the satisfaction and smiles on the faces of the aunties was priceless and it made my day.

In Singapore, there are people who provide food for migrant workers and look after their rights and welfare,  others work as care-givers day and night at hospitals, there are polytechnic students who design  products and aids for the disabled and the aged and there are others contribute to charities like the  bone marrow donation programme or the cancer society.

In conclusion, there is an information overload in todays classrooms and we have to be able to filter the useful knowledge from just facts and figures and rote knowledge.  Knowledge  does not always have to  make economic sense.  True knowledge is one  that makes us human.

Alvin Toffler said and I quote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, it will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Categories: Books
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