Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The School on the top of a Mountain

On the 3rd day of our trip, we visited a school located on a mountain top, and that journey was one memorable one!

The road situation was such that we had to forgo our mini-bus and travel on sturdy four-wheel drive. After half-an-hour of travelling on highway, we entered into a most `turbulent' road journey I have ever experienced.

Just a few years ago, there was no road for vehicles to go up the mountain.. only by foot. But there was a need to build a school up there for there are people living up in the mountain and their children need education. So World Vision took up the task to not just build a school but also the mountain road..

The road was basically made of rocks, stones and earth. I must take my hats off to our driver for that extremely rugged, bumpy and winding drive (which felt like a vigorous massage) which seemed to go and on. Note that it is a two-way road - imagine when a vehicle, likely a lorry coming in opposite direction. You not only need skills but also guts! Thankfully we only experienced it once (our driver found a wider patch to manoeuvre) as not many vehicles travelled on the road at that time.

Having the privilege of sitting in front, I took some pictures on the way..

Finally, after almost an hour, we reached the school which was almost at the top of the montain. And were given a lined-up welcome cheers again!

It was a small school, in total less than 100 students from primary 2 to 6. In all, we went to six schools divided in groups and this one was probably the poorest of all.. Many of them still could not speak Mandarin properly.. and appeared shy at first. But soon, most of them warmed up to us.

Again, like every school, there was this group `merry-go-round' dance where the sponsors also joined in the fun, and then they performed some items such a singing, dancing and reciting.
Although only one student's sponsor was there to visit him, all the students also prepared something for their visitors. I ended up getting about a dozen pieces of drawings!!

we spent about two hours there, visiting their classrooms and dorms, as some of the students' homes are just too far away for them to commute daily. They do not have a place to eat, in fact they don't have a proper kitchen too. Most of them shower once every week or 10 days for there isn't enough water. They have to walk outside the school compound to do their `business' in a smelly and dirty toilet - if that's what u call it.

But there's one thing the school has that our schools don't - nature, fresh air and breath-taking scenery. The view from the top of the mountain was just spectacular, and perhaps it is a good thing that the kids get to grow up in the midst of nature and not polluted city.

We also visited a farmer's house nearby which honestly I couldn't imagine how someone could live there.. (yeah i know, i have been spoilt)

Finally was time to leave. The road home seemed a little faster, still very bumpy and `exciting' though. And it took us a good 50 minutes before the Jeep hit the straight and even highway again.


And when we had lunch.. we realised how physically tired we were! Never been on such an `exhilirating' car ride before.. but it was worth it!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

An Unforgettable Journey...

I have fallen ill.

On the second last day of the five-day trip to China, I came down with sore throat and fever.. and now i'm suffering with a hoarse voice and lots of phlegm.

While physically I'm not well, my spirit is still high from the trip - an eye-opener and a meaningful one. In fact, I can't find words to describe the feelings.. I just know that the people I met and the places that I've been, they would certainly be etched in my mind for a very very long time..

I had tried to imagine the poverty level of the place we were going to visit. eading about it, looking at pictures are one thing, but being there and seeing it with your own eyes is another.

Things we take for granted - food, water, shelter, clothings, basic hygeine - are scarse there. In Liu De Village - the part of Yongsheng that Malaysian sponsors help out - the situation was really bad after an earthquake in 1996. And now after many years of re-development effort by World Vision, it has improved though people are still poor, and live with bare minimal essentials..

The school of Zhang Jian, my sponsored child, is a half-boarding school but it does not have any shower facilities. Just a few taps outdoor for the students to wash their faces. Smelly and faeces-filled toilets, basically holes on grounds are located at the other end. Zhang Jian, whose house in one-and-a-half-hour walk away from his school, returns home every weekend for his bath.

The students live in domitaries with very run-down double-decker beds and flimsy mattresses. Two students have to share a single bed. Sometimes as many as 30 plus students fit into a crowded room that is easily a breeding ground for diseases. Their meals are a big bowl of rice with some vege - they get a bit of mince pork once a week.

When I commented on their conditions, I was also told that these children are the luckier ones. At least they are in school and have the basic amenities..It is sadly true.. There are others living in extreme poverty. And I can't help but think of our children who have more than what they need. What a stark contrast!

Unforgettable time with Zhang Jian

The highlight of the trip of course was meeting my sponsored child and that happened on the third day of the trip when our group visited his school.

Hundreds of students lined the steps up the hill where the school was, chanting `huan yin! huan yin! re liet huan yin! (welcome! welcome! extremely welcome!) and clapped in rhythm. Then half-way, I spotted Zhang Jian and there we had our quick introduction and acquiantance. I was exhilirated! For the other sponsor could not recognise her `child'.

Later, I found him again when the students invited us to do a group dance together. So we joined hand and danced to a folk song sang repeatedly and gaily by the student.

His father came too but he was nice to let his son spent more time alone with me. As I have guessed, Zhang Jian was a little shy - he didn't talk much but always answer my questions promptly. But he was such a sweet and well-behaved child, and I'm quite amazed the way he carefully opened the wrappers of my presents and after admiring the gift, put them back again properly...He is very well-mannered too, addressing every adult he came across either `auntie' or `uncle'.

He also had a gift for me - a poem with a picture that he drew. I brought for him some photographs of myself and my family - including the two Js. And yes, he likes dogs too! :) Then I asked him to take me around the school - to see his dorm (he lives there as his home is quite far away), his classroom and the school compound. And I have a better understanding of his life..

Towards the end when we were about to leave, he asked me: `Ah Yi (auntie) can you not stay a bit longer?' I told him I would love to but I couldn't as we travelled in a group. He accompanied me down the hill step all the way to where our Jeeps were parked, and stayed with me till I left....

And then he said to me in a soft and firm voice: "Ah Yi, you don't worry, I promise that I will be hardworking and do well in my studies."

Tears welded in my eyes and I had to look away. He is such a good boy, and I feel so fortunate to be able to sponsor him all these years.. Though it was only the first time we ever met, I can feel the bond between us..

I felt sad to part for I don' know when or if ever I would see him again.. World Vision's project on the village is concluding in 2008 and my sponsorship for him would also end.. but I pray that I could keep in touch with him and perhaps see him again..

Before we left Yongsheng, I went and bought him more things - for I only got him stationeries from KL. I bought him a school bag, a shirt, a watch as I saw he had an old and broken one, some simple toys (which was a real bargain bought in Yongsheng)... and wrote him a card.

I know he will write back to me..

(More stories on the trip: to be continued...)

To view photos on the trip - click on Flickr flashcard on right

The Highlight of My Trip

Zhang Jian - my sponsored child
Originally uploaded by jesscet.
Meet Zhang Jian, my sponsored child of more than 6 years through World Vision Malaysia. He's now 10 - a very sweet, obedient and good-natured boy. Quiet and very mature for his age..

I recognised him as we walked up the steps to the school - where the students gave us `Welcome' cheers and claps. This is the very first picture I took of him. I spent some two hours with him in his school - a Half Boarding School in Liu De Village, Yongsheng. (more details to follow..:) )

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Packing to Go!!

Just a short one while taking a break from packing!

Have been planning (in my head) to pack since beginning of the week but somehow didn't get down to it.. so again, last minute packing. I really dislike packing for cold weather!

But the weather here has been so hot and unbearable.. and in a way, am looking forward to escape the heat though I know it will be pretty cold.

Am taking a large suitcase and a hand-travelling bag.. i know i know, it will only be five days but woollen sweaters are qutie bulky.. and `travelling light' is definitely not my forte :p

Will be getting up at 5:15am so that I can be at the airport by 6:45am for briefing. That means I am aiming to go to bed by 11pm the latest.. don't know whether I can sleep as I slept at 4am again and woke up close to noon today!!

Potential lack of sleep aside, I am actually feeling quite excited now. Though I have been to China for many times but this will be a special trip. On Tuesday afternoon, I will be seeing Zhang Jian after all these years! Wondering how it will be like.. ? hope he is not too shy and that the meeting will be a memorable one. :)

Ok, gotta go back to packing now... till next weekend!

p.s. poor two Js.. we will miss each others i know..

Friday, March 17, 2006

I am Going to Meet My `Child'!

After about two-and-a-half month of anticipating.. the trip (that I blogged a bit on in January) is almost here!

On early Sunday morning - which is just about two days away - I will set off to Yunnan, China with a group of child sponsors and staff of World Vision Malaysia.

I've been sponsoring boy from the remote Yongsheng village in Yunnan for more than six years now. I remember the first time receiving the photo and details of Zhang Jian, who was about three years-old then. He looked so adorable - tanned skin, round face and a pair of big, intelligent eyes. Each year I would receive a report on him as well as on the community he lives in. And I could see how he has grown much taller and bigger each year, and finally two years ago, he could start writing simple things to me!

Ashamed to say, I had not been communicating with him enough. I think i had only written to him a couple of times and posted some small gifts to him once in all these years. But always at the back of my head, I was wondering would I ever get to meet him?

So imagine my excitement when I know World Vision was going to organise a trip for their child sponsors of that particular community to visit the place and their child in person. On top of seeing Zhang Jian, it would also be a rare experience to visit the project area and see the livelihood of the people there.

It would be a great learning experience and eye-opener..

Today I finally went and bought something for Zhang Jian. I have been pondering on what to get him and received a few suggestions - watch, T-shirt, toys, children Bible etc.. from various people but found out that there are rules as to what gifts are considered appropriate. And those mentioned above are not.

So I decided that I shall get him some stationeries which would be practical. I bought a Pilot two-way pen/pencil (and extra refill and leads) a set of four Staedtler fineliners, a notebook and a pencil case. Bearing in mind that the gifts should not be too expensive or luxurious so that they would cause envy from other children.

The itinerary is such that we have quite a few villages to visit as different sponsored children are from different villages and schools. Zhang Jian is at a half-boarding school and that's where I will get to meet him and spend an afternoon with him. Was hoping that I would get to meet his family too but due to logistic reason, it is not possible.

I also have to brace myself for the cold weather! It might officially be Spring - it's end of March - but the weather in that region is still pretty chilly. Especially some of the places are hilly so the breeze would be stronger. I was told that at night it could be close to zero degree celcius! Ok, I'm packing winter clothes.

As I am preparing to go on this trip, coincidentally at work, I've been working on World Vision's assignments too! As the organisation is embarking on a month-long campaign to get 1,000 more children sponsored by Malaysians, Jessica T. - who is the publicity person with WV - set up an interview for me with two WV ambassadors - Miss Malaysia 2003/2004 Wong Sze Zen, and veteran songbird Francissca Peter. I interviewed them last week and the story will be out this Sunday - but I won't get to see it firsthand as I would be in the plane!

Then yesterday, I attended a press conference where the newest World Vision ambassador - Fish Leong - launched the campaign. Due to her popularity as an artiste, it attracted quite a lot of media attention and the story already came out in most Chinese papers. I also did a news story in Malay Mail which was out today.

There are assignments and stories that you feel indifferent of sometimes but there are also those which you feel more strongly about. And World Vision's work is one of them.

Before I end this post, I'm challenging all my readers here who haven't sponsored a child to seriously consider it. With a gift of just RM50 a month (the cost of a nice meal), you are able to help a needy child to improve his/her life - with basic amenities, health care and education.

Do go to World Vision Malaysia's homepage and find out more. You can even sign up there and play your part to to achieve their target of `1,000 Children in One Month'.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

KINGLY Seasfood Feast!

I am so full that I feel numb, dazed.. and a bit sick...

I just had a most extravagant meal in my whole life - for free!

It's quite a rare assignment as I don't usually do food review. But because non-halal food will be served and the guys doing the food review beat are Muslims, I was asked to go. And I wasn't complaining after knowing wha I was about to sample!

It is a new seafood restaurant called King Crab and the speciality is.. what else but the King Crab that can weigh up to 12kg! It also has loads of expensive seafood - lobster, abalone.. u name it.

But, what attracted and surprised me when I read the invitataion it was written that they were going to treat us to their `Presidential Menu' that is worth RM8,888 per table. No kidding! That would be RM888 per person.

Just look at the menu (yes, this was what I had! ) and the cost of each dish for 10 persons:

1. Specialty Four Seasons Appetizer - RM400
2. Stewed Superior Shark's Fin Soup (individual serving) - RM2,400
3. Geoduck Sashimi / Superior Boiled - RM400
4. Lobster Sashimi / Superior Boiled - RM520
5. Superior Stewed Abalone (individual serving) - RM2,000
6. Steamed `So Mei' (fish) in Hong Kong Style - RM1,000
7. Specialty King Crab - Rm1, 500
8. Hong Kong Style Roasted Young Pigeon - RM340
9. Braised Noodles with Lobster Head - RM40
Stewed Bird's Blood Nest with Rock Sugar (individual serving) - RM2,400

Grand Total: RM11,000!

Basically they have gathered all the most expensive food you could think of in this special set. And now, the restaurant is offering this KINGLY feast at the auspicious price of RM8,888!

If my memory serves me right, tonight was the first time I experienced eating such a huge abalone (which I had to share), a 6kg crab with a one-foot long claw, and bird's blood nest (the most expensive type of bird's nest). The seafood was fresh and very tasty but I won't say they're the best I've eaten.

One thing though which could kinda put some people especially small eaters off, is that the portions were humungus! Although we were forewarned to just sample a little of everything, around the fourth course, I was already quite full but the King Crab had not even arrived.

On top of the `impossible-to-finish' Presidential set, they also cooked some of the dishes from the `normal menu' such as buttered prawns, kangkong belacan, deep fried `lai liu ha' (don't know English name- types of shrimps) Of course i could only took a small quantity of each..

So, naturally there were quite a bit of left-overs which we were given to tapau home. And I treated my dad and mom to an `expensive supper' - they got to try the abalone and King Crab and they thought they were pretty good!

Since I'm going to do a food review for the paper, don't feel like writing much in details here and prefer to let the photos I took to speak for themselves.

Unfortunately after posting just one photo, Blogger's image upload had problems and I couldn't upload anymore photos. I will have to do that tomorrow...

Yes, I took photos of each dish.. and the photos are quite a sight. I promise.

But am I gonna sleep tonight? Am still soooo full...!

Updated: THE photos of the dishes!!

The chef holding the 6kg King Crab which was still alive before dinner

The first dish - Four Seasons Appetiser which serving is SO HUGE (but tasted pretty good)

The very pricy superior shark's fin soup which I lapped up

Geoduck sashimi (bottom) and lobster sashimi - either eaten raw with wasabi and a special mint sauce or cooked in soup. I tried both ways and liked both!

The huge and high quality abalone from Mexico - it's a `two-head' one (Chinese speaking)

Steamed `sou mei' - considered the most expensive fish in Chinese restaurant. It has a rather elastic texture.

Restaurant owner Marcus proudly posing with the specialty - King Crab!

Another look at the delicious baked buttered King Crab, which tasted a bit spicy too..

Marcus placed the huge claw of the King Crab on my plate! I only managed to eat a portion of it of course..

Succulent and yummy young roast pigeon - ate just a drumstick

Brasied noodles wih lobster head - extremely tasty but was so full that i just sampled the taste!

Our dessert - the RM200 a bowl bird's blood nest soup which I didn't waste as well..

Me outside the restaurant after dinner.. too full to do anything.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Something funny happened tonite! (or rather last nite as it's already after 12)

Didn't expect dad and mom to be home so early.. I was just finishing my late dinner (yeah, got home close to 10pm) and clearing up. The back kitchen door was opened and the two Js were wondering around the kitchen. Then all of a sudden, they both dashed outside.. ! Two seconds later I heard my dad's car coming into the porch. Needless to say, the two had `escaped' and gone for their rendezvous again!

Anyway, both dad and mom didn't even realise that Jojo and Jelly had gone out. When I told them, they opened the small door and decided to take a walk to look for them. I went back into the kitchen..

Just half a minute later, I heard some commotion and mom's and dad's excited voices calling `Jojo!', `Jelly'! I came out and saw two dogs dashed inside from the small gate while dad and mom also came inside. `That was FAST!' I thought to myself. And dad quickly closed the gate..

Then, I thought I had a strange sight! A Golden Retriever was running and wandering outside our gate - it was Jojo!

"Jojo is outside!" I shouted to dad and mom. But wait, hadn't Jojo already come in?

Dad then burst out laughing! The dog that he had let in was not Jojo but Jasor - the prisoner dog of a neighbour that has the same coat colour as Jojo. What happened was when they went outside, they saw three dogs charging towards them and since Jasor was the first that came into our compound, dad thought he was Jojo!

And the real Jojo was shut out from his own house!

So we let Jojo came in and let the three of them play together for a while. Boy were they excited! But even when they were playing, mom had difficulty telling Jojo and Jasor apart! Besides their different collar, the biggest difference is that Jasor is thinner than Jojo.

This was the second time I saw Jasor managed to `escape' his prison late at night! He looked so happy unlike the pitiful-looking dog I saw inside his cell when I pass his place everytime...

But soon I had to let Jasor out. That wasn't easy either as he obviously like to be here with us and his two companions! Dad and mom had to hold onto Jojo and Jelly respectively as I lured Jasor out with some treats. Even after he went out, he was wandering in front of the gate for a few minutes before walking home...

And dad could not get over the fact that he could not recognise his own beloved Jojo!! :p

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Latest Gym, Jelly's Latest Bath

What a l-o-n-g day it was.

Got up early (by my standard) for a 10:30am movie preview. `2 Become 1', starring Miriam Yeung and Richie Jen, is an adaptation of a book by a Chinese author on a woman's struggle with breast cancer. It is quite a refreshing theme for a HK drama and the serious subject matter was treated in a light, humorous but also touching manner. Overall it was pretty enjoyable and heart-warming.

Anyway, because yesterday I didn't end up going into office at all, I decided to stay back late to finish as many `smaller stories' as possible. Already planned to go to the gym but sorta hesitated when I left office at 9:4opm! Am glad that finally I ended up going.. the motivation being that at these late hours, less people would be there and I can use which ever machine i like! (Yes, California Fitness MVM is getting really crowded with the increasing number of members it has aggressively recruted!)

This was the latest ever gym session for me so far! But yes, it was good because I could easily get a treadmill machine and also other stations I wanted to work out on.. It was much less crowded too. I took my own sweet time and left the gym at close to midnight (the closign time), showered and all refreshed. I reached home at 12:20am where dinner was waiting for me- dinner at such an unearthy time! :p

Thanks or rather no-thanks to Jojo, I ended the night with more `work' to do! Jojo had been pretty restless these days and maybe it is because I had not been paying him enough attention. Normally when I come back at night, he would recognise my car and would not come out of the gate. But tonite, he was all ready to charge out and I couldn't stop him in time.

Jelly, seeing that her `brother' was having an `outing', was getting very restless and bothered. I thought in order to be `fair', I would just take her out for a short walk. But guess what? she was beyond control and was charging everywhere towards Jojo on the road and finally I just though, what the heck, it's already so late and since Jojo was roaming, I also let Jelly loose, knowing that they would be home soon.

True enough, even before I finished dinner, the two had come back. Jelly was acting a little strange though as she she was very itchy. When I applied ear-drops to both the Js, I found out that Jelly had a few small thorny round thing (must be the seeds of some plants) stuck to her ears! I took them out and they almost pricked my fingers. And as I felt around her body, to my horror, many more of those thorny things were stuck around her feet and body - some in her fur but some close to the flesh! She was obviously feeling uncomfortable too and as I took them out one by one, she too was biting them out and eating them!

It was just too messy and to clear all the thorny stuff, I decided I had to bathe her. So, Jelly had her latest bath ever at 1:10am.

After examining and washing her thoroughly, finally Jelly looks all clean and free of those yucky thorns.. I also spent some time with Jojo passifying him as I could tell her was feeling jealous before bringing Jelly to my room to air dry (under the fan as she hates hairdryers).

And finally, I can at last unwind.. but not before posting this blog while Jelly dozes off on my bed behind me...

Oh, it's time to bring her down now...

Monday, March 06, 2006

My Blog's Worth!

No idea how it was evaluated! I just had to type in my blog url and instantly the figure arrived!! So what's yours worth? ;)

My blog is worth $8,468.10.
How much is your blog worth?

Dog Tale - a poem

While we are still at dogs.. here's a poem my colleague John wrote and e-mailed me. He enjoys writing poem and submits his works to the Internet. I promised him to put this on my blog... yeah, a tribute to dogs.. :)

Dog Tales

our family has been abuzz
with dog tales ever since we were kids
there was a dog our grandparents owned
which swam the river back
after being forgotten in a village
another chose to die
in our neighbour's garden
hiding itself in a bush
perhaps because of its unwillingness
to let us feel the pain
a few had such sensitive ears
they could hear
our car a kilometre away
hissing and jumping at the gate
before we appeared
another accompanied
mom to the wetmarket each morn
waiting earnestly at the road
as she made her purchases
sometimes, it would turn back
on the leisure trip
fearing attacks by bigger dogs
that had suddenly appeared
giving mom the comic laughters
late granny was so touched
by the death of our last dog
she insisted that there would be
be no more dog in the house
as she could not take
the pain of a lost pet anymore
so when we heard of a Japanese dog
which spent many futile months
waiting for its master's return
at a railway station,
we knew it to be a true story

john tiong chunghoo

Thursday, March 02, 2006

My Little Shadow

Jelly is my little shadow!

As i have mentioned before, Jelly follows me EVERYWHERE! She is literally behind my heels all the time whenever I'm in the house..(when she's awake that is)

Even when I go into the toilet she would sniff at the door, or when I am having my shower, she would wait for me patiently by the shower chamber; and if I am near sitting or lying in bed, she would jump onto the bed and stay there as long as I am in bed...

These days, she is also my alarm clock. When it is about time that I wake up, the maids will release her to come in from the garden and she would dash upstairs and bark at my door.. until I open it to let her in!

Here're some Jelly's recent pix - aint she a cutie? ;)