Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Safia Putri Melati is Minah Gadis Dusun

Aah, I have been looking for this song for years.

Yes, I do know that the original Titiek Puspa version has been uploaded in Youtube for many years now. But I was looking for this particular version by child singer whose version I thought is a much better version that even the maestro Titiek.

I seldom, if ever, give good review for a remake. But this one tops them all.

Safia Putri Melati.

Soothing music. It is simple and well done. It didn't sound cheap. In fact it sounds perfect with the childish voice of Safia.

It is a compliment, really. Her voice suits this song to the letter.

Whenever I hear this song, I would be time-traveling back to the 70s, and I can imagine life then as depicted by this song.



Sunday, July 29, 2012

'Proposals' came fast and furious - and aplenty - at Ben Thanh

Ho Chi Minh City, Friday night. Taken by Arif


While I can never claim to be the first foreigner to have visited Saigon since the fall of Saigon in 1975, but I guess I can arguably claim that I was one of the earliest ones. Way before any Malaysian ladies knew and able to pronounce Ben Thanh, and long before anyone at that famous market can exclaime "Murah, murah," I have been frequenting the city formerly known as Saigon.

Many times over!

Once upon a time - read: the 70s, Vietnam is a name that conjured hatred and invoked fear, especially since the evacuation of the last Americans from Saigon. The theory was that the rest of South East Asia would fall like the dominoes to communism. I was worried about heading to Kota Bharu to start my secondary schooling in 1976, as that would be the nearest Malaysian town to Vietnam, and the Thai border; and if Malaysia were to fall to the communist, I was sure then that they would invade through Kota Bharu, just like the Japanese in 1941.

So when the Vietnamese Communist Party Secretary General visited Melaka Refinery as part of the country's delegation to promote economic cooperation with Malaysia (I was introduced to him in my Training Simulator Room), I was bemused that I got to shake hands with the top guns of the communist Party.

That was in 1994, I think.

In 1995, I was asked by my company to go to Vietnam since we got an inquiry about our products. Then, we would have to get visa to visit that country. And mind you, we have to pay top dollar to get the one-entry visa, and we would be paying the (war) vanquished currency! (Normalization of relationship with the US occurred in 1995.)

But I had not prepared for my eventual arrival in Saigon.
The old Saigon Aiport - not many have seen this airport,
and experienced it.
The airport (it was an old Saigon Airport), perhaps the same one the Americans used to evacuate from Saigon, and it was full with the Army personnel.

Mind you, they were the communists, if I can put it in that way. In other words, they were the VIETCONGS! 

Would they slaughter me right there and then at the airport (like in many American war movies) or torture me to my death? I was hoping that would not be the case, and in any case, I was cursing myself for not asking my boss to increase my insurance coverage when agreeing to come over to Vietnam.

While I was not the only foreigner then, I was pretty sure I was one of the few foreigners who had bothered to go to Vietnam. Perhaps we could count ourselves with our fingers, and there were too few of us, and too far in between. Everybody that I saw that day were wearing greens with some sorts of beret, and hence I perceived everybody was communists.

And mind you, for sure they would not see me as their comrade.
I used to stay at Rex Hotel, perhaps one of the
few hotels then at HCMC in the old days. Rex HOtel
can be seen on the left in the background.
Hey, I was in a country that we thought would invade Malaysia in the mid-70s. We were sure of that; and here I was, alone, in Saigon and trying to figure out what it takes to get to the city centre. I had to bargain in simple English, by pointing US$, as to the fare I was supposed to pay to take me to my hotel.

Fortunately then, as it is not the case nowadays, they had never tried to cheat me. I probably paid less than USD4-5 for my trip to District 1 of Saigon. Worst was trying to bargain my way to Vung Tau which is about 4-5 hours south of Saigon. Vung Tau is a port city and centre of oil exploration in Vietnam.

There was no Lonely Planet to guide me then.

Halfway to Vung Tau, we stopped for our lunch. Obviously no one speaks English and I could not simply explained that all I need is a simple fried rice with egg, and no pork or meat or chicken. I was gesturing to the cook, but I guess we were like chicken and duck trying to rationalize what the other was saying.

Fortunately a stranger took interest in our chicken and duck conversation and managed to interface between us.

So I got my fried rice and egg lunch that day.

Nowadays one can easily ply Vung Tau using the ferry. It is more comfortable that before and less of a hassle than using the road that are filled up with motorists.

Ben Thanh - The Capital of Vietnam

Ben Thanh is the capital of Vienam as far as Malaysian women are concerned - for the shopping kinds, that is! Put them anywhere in Saigon, heck, put them anywhere in Vietnam, I am sure they would be able to find their way back to Ben Thanh.

How would one explained the fact that everybody in the market is able to speak Malay, albeit sporadically. We did not share the same religion, nor language and I don't think culturally there is any similarity between the Malays and Vietnamese.

May be with the Champas - if only in religion, but not with the Vietnamese.

Since my last trip about a decade ago, I had never set my foot in Ho Chi Minh again. After leaving my (previous) employment, I lost that travel streak. May be I was concentrating on the local market, may be it was too expensive to travel in SEA on my own, with no big sugar daddy of a company to sponsor my tickets and five star hotels, so to speak.

The Vietnamese ladies at Ben Thanh took the (Malay) language as if their lives depended on it; and in some case, their lives did depend on it. Since the new millennium, Malaysians made up a significant numbers of buyers of Vietnamese goods sold at the market.

Everywhere we go, we were asked to visit their stalls, loudly proclaiming, "murah, murah." They would even tell you that they can make "baju kurung" or "jubah" within a day, and delivered to your hotel by end of the day.

But I could not stand the bargaining style of Ben Thanh. I knew I would lose - all the time.

First they would shout "Abang Sayang, mari, mari, murah" to attract you to their stall, and will pull your hand to have a seat at their stalls. Now that's something new. I would normally be addressed as pakcik, even if I knew she is older than me. I guess Malaysian ladies prefer to batter one's pride and confidence, eh?

And bring one back down to Earth.
Inside Ben Thanh. It is like a black hole
in as far as the money in your wallet is concerned!
But the Vietnamese ladies are smarter. Even if they are not much older than Arif or Akmal, and in front of Arif and my wife, they would not hesitate - or stop - calling me Abang Sayang!

Don't you worry - I know my place in this world; I knew that abang sayang thingy is strictly meant to ensure that my dollars, Vietnamese dong and ringgit would soon be parted from my wallet into their cash register! I was under no illusion that I was Tom Cruise to their eyes.

But to be honest, while my wallet is what they were after, once I started agreeing to the price for the goods I was interested in, they would turn their attention to Arif.

"Is he your son?" they would ask me. "Why?" I would asked them back.

"He is so handsome, very good looking." Aah, the Vietnamese girls were going ga-ga over Arif. 

Typically Arif would blush, but not without thanking them first.

"How old are you?" they would either asked him, or his mother.

"Oh, I am also 21," they would reply, excited that their age is similar. "Would you be my boyfriend?" OMG, they would propose to him, right there and then. There were no hesitation in their voice, and they were blunt. I am sure I would have died from embarrassment than to do that to any girl when I was their age, and I am sure that that would be the case with Arif.

We would only laughed at their spontaneous proposition. We thought they were hilarious, if not downright absurd!

These Vietnamese girls, as young as they may be, are quite aggressive and would stop at nothing to get what they want. This is something new to him and us. I am reasonably sure Malay girls would not do that, at least not straight to your face. They would probably whispers that thought among themselves, behind your back.

Many a times, I told them to instead address Arif as their Abang Sayang and not me. But I guess they knew who has a thicker wallet (at least for now), and I believe that that term of endearment is meant for someone with a (thick) wallet (that's relative though), and has nothing to do with age, or appearance!

Arif was comparing notes on the Japanese and Vietnamese - he had visited Japan for eight days and Vietname for three. "No, culturally, they are a world apart," I told him, "but both are industrious, that's the common bond. But the Japanese are culturally more refine and sophisticated."

At least to my eyes. Not without basis though - I spent nearly 1 1/2 years in Japan in total while working for a black gold company in the late 80s and early 90s. And I was there during the opening of Vietnam in the early 90s.

Arif found the bargaining process at Ben Thanh stressful. I would too if I were there the first time. To me, I knew I can just walk away anytime I feel the prices are too much to pay. They can't force me to buy their stuff if I don't want to. After all, I was there 15 years ago and knew about the prices then albeit I am sure inflation brought by my fellow Malaysians would have caused the price to skyrocket.

Especially since they would call one Abang Sayang!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

No-Food Ramblings in Ramadhan

I have been vindicated again.

No, no, I am not talking about M Nasir (again). Let's talk about other more important things in life, shall we? 

First day of Ramadhan this year has been extremely satisfying for me. Normally I would be at home (or office), feeling sorry for myself for not being able to stuff myself with food, food and more food. I would feel lethargic thinking about food, and most likely I would take nap in the afternoon on the first day.

It is typically a sorry state of affair. Hah! That's me.

It will last a couple of days and I would then follow normal regime. Soon all the agony of not having food for lunch is forgotten. I would then look forward to visiting my neighbourhood pasar ramadhan after my office hours.

For food, and more foods.

But great things do happen. So far, albeit only a day - no pasar ramadhan yet, only home cooked meals. Wonder how long I can resist the temptations.

So this year, things are so different. I visited two hospitals in a space of two hours on the first day of Ramadhan and only returned in time for buka puasa.
Hospital TAR Kelang
Stolen from bella-youbelongwithme.blogspot.com
Mak was hospitalized two days before Ramadhan, and she was still there on the first day, so I have no choice but to visit her at Hospital TAR Klang. It is on the other side of town, but with no traffic it will take me less than 45 mins to reach there, which is not a problem. A supposedly quick visit during lunch hour turned out to be longer with the doctor announcing that she will be discharged out that afternoon.

"You'll be more sick if you were to stay on," say the Indian lady doctor (sorry did not get to see her name), matter-of-factly. "Just come back in two weeks' time for the results of you blood tests," she continues.

Yeah, mak has been looking good since Friday morning actually, unlike on Thursday when she had to be placed under critical observation. Funny hospital this HTAR is, to be honest. Two of my siblings were kicked out (literally) by the doc manning the Critical observation unit. "You are not supposed to be here," they chided them.

Aah, well. They are doing their job, and knowing how strict Hospital Sg Buluh is, I can only appreciate the need for controls at our government hospitals.

But this is one hospital full of contradictions. Despite the doctors being strict with the relatives of the sick, where else one would get vendors selling nasik lemak in the ward in the middle of the night? 

Only at HTAR!

HTAR was not our (first) choice actually. For one, it is in Klang, and they might as well sent her to Timbuktu and I am sure I would be able to find my way to Central Africa than to this royal town of Selangor. I think the ambulance picked this hospital out due to its vicinity (to the incident). But I am happy with the staff's commitment. I have never seen seen a more dedicated bunch of staff at any hospital - government or private. They are a jovial lot; and they would attend to you in no time, whether you are a patient or a patient's relative wanting to know more about the sick. Doctors and nurses alike; it is always with a smile.

I am impressed.

Only an hour before I had visited a former teacher now at the ICU at SDMC. May Allah lightens her burden. I can only pray for her well-being, for she seems to suffer quite a bit. But beyond that, there is little I could do.

I was feeling despair.

(Cikgu Wan Raimah used to teach us Sains Paduan during F1, our early year at Kota Bharu. A diligent teacher, and someone I like as a teacher, but she was bullied by some of my classmates during those years, especially pestering her to move on to their then - and now, still I guess - favourite topic; the human reproductive system. Curious teens, I supposed but, I don't recall her getting angry nonetheless.)

(She left teaching a few years later - not sure if we had played any role in her leaving the profession, and moved on to the private sector (as chemist at the Malayan Tobacco Company).

But that desperation was soon forgotten in the company of my seniors from high school. 

A familar face with a KB74, Kak
Khairani. Taken wo permission
from FB page
To be honest, I may not have talked to (some of) them during those years. But once sharing the same roof and the ground were reasons enough for us to bond and share many common stories. Old stories are great common denominators for anyone to link up with anybody. We speak the same lingo, so the saying goes.

And the good thing being in the company of similar age sharing old school stories, we became teens all over again. The antics, the banters, the stories and of course where would reunion (of sort) be without the gossips.

With Tn Hj Shubri, KB73. We were
listening to a KB74. YOu
can see her (partial) three fingers
Unfortunately, the gossips of who married who, and how many times would be off limit here as this blog is in the public domains, but how enlightened I was to know all these on the first day of Ramadhan! Hahaha.

It was during this chit-chat session that I was vindicated again of what I wrote in this blog years ago. I had written about a former primary schoolteacher's observation (Cikgu Hizam) that typically "anak-anak polis tak menjadi." Mind you, he was a teacher, if I am not mistaken, since 1959 in remote and small towns of Malaysia, and has been a teacher through and through (especially during the early days of Merdeka) and with little or no infrastructure, so his observation is without malice.

(So if you are a children of a policeman, and you 'menjadi', take this observation with a pinch of salt. Good for you. It is a general observation, and I am sure you will find one or two and more exceptions to the rules from many hundred cases! We have no empirical correlations to back us up in any case.)

Talking to this senior of mine, a teacher by profession, she has many stories of how many policemen's children at her Subang Jaya school and  how 'gangster' the policeman parents of students disciplined by the school could be. She even told us of a story of a student (who looked so innocent) who had robbed shop using samurai sword. She is of the opinion that over-protection by policemen parents, and perhaps corruptions with un-halal money running through their veins, have something to do with the non-progress of their children in the wheel of life..

Mind you, she is a current teacher (in this millennium) with enough years under the belt, so to speak, so I would consider her an authority in her observation despite the fact that the model of her observation in her mind has never been tested, statistically.

I am sure she hold no malice towards any student of hers, especially those with a policeman father.

So in a space of a few days, I have been vindicated again. On two topics I felt strongly about.

Then again, I did not simply write my observation. I don't have a view on this,. since I am not from the education profession, so I would not know anything about this. I am merely the messenger. I know from the few times I have been on the 'right' end of the policemen - yes, they are on the wrong end of the law as far as I am concerned, I have very low opinion of our security officers. But I also hold no malice to their children.

Thank you Cikgu Siti for your insight.


Funny month July. I met with a senior KB73 at a wedding close to July. Then last week I met with a few seniors KB75 at Durian Festival 3 at Lui, (on the same day I had my KB76 reunion of sort at a wedding, and this week I met at least three KB74 seniors. Hmmm,, this is not me. I was never that active socially.

It was at this meeting that I was made aware that at least I have one regular reader from across the Pacific. A senior at school whom I am sure would have difficulty in placing my being in the overall scheme of things at MRSM KB in the 70s, but I hope that she had enjoyed going through the blog and the many writings on MRSM life then, which she should be able to relate to. The again, some of the writings were sourced from friends as I would not able to remember everything. Some of them I am sure she would know personally of.

Thanks Kak Maz for having followed this blog; I guess the ghosts are no longer my only readers! ;)
The blogger listening attentively to self confessed
Mrs Ewing. She lives in Dallas obviously -
 Southfolk Ranch to be exact!.
A blogger is a good listener..then he writes!
Taken without permission from Cikgu Siti's FB.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

M Nasir - Saved by Suatu Masa

I came with high hopes, but left the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas with that hopes in tatters.

I am talking about listening (and watching) to M Nasir with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and I thought it was a match made in heaven.

Beautiful songs that you are so used to get from the sifu; beautiful arrangements that are typically second to none in his albums, and a charismatic singer. You can't get anyone better than M Nasir.

I have lived and breath his songs since the late 70s. When I saw his first album with a name that says Mohamed MN, and this young guy in an awkward dancing posture (at the back of the album cover), I thought he was funny - in a not-so complimentary way.


But when he got it big with Kenangan Lalu (sung by Flybaits), I was in awe. This guy could go far, I thought, despite the awkward pose on his first album cover.

The rest, as they said it, is history.

Suatu Masa in 1982 was classic. A song that is totally M Nasir and no one else could do it. His Kembara albums are always in demand; you would find copies of his cassettes at our home during those years. I simply could not miss any of his solo albums either in the 90s.

I had bought the tickets for his concert last year. When I knew that he will be backed by the full MPO to be conducted by Kevin Field, I knew we would be having a jolly good time; or may be moved to  tears during the sad songs. There are just too many songs over the past three decades for us to enjoy such quality performance.

He started off with Andalusia, a beautiful Spanish-influence song about - what else? - Andalusia. But I nearly did not recognize the song.

The arrangement was, well, very different, and the end product is not the Andalusia that I know and love. It did not follow the melody, so much so I found it painful to follow the song.

And many other songs. They were totally un-M Nasir.

What on earth the arranger was trying to do? Showing off the skills of the MPO violinists (that Arif would never be able to do) and kill off the song? Too many 'gorengs' would make me cringe.

But that is not my only complain.

Most of the time, his voice was drowned by the orchestra. Sorry, but make that 'overwhelmed'. The background music accompanying him was way too loud. Mind the work 'background' music; it is supposed to be just that, and nothing more. This is not the MPO that I have came to know - and love. This time around, the MPO sounds very much like the Istana Budaya Orchestra.

Just for the uninitiated, the Istana Budaya Orchestra (whatever they called it) plays along this philosophy - the louder, the better and the louder, the merrier. So they arranged the music in such a way that all instruments would play at the same time. All the time. The drums would be on full blast, so would the horn section. Of course these would drown the string section too.

Oh and if these are not loud enough, they will add the electric guitar too.

Utter chaos.

You would almost always never be able to hear piano or violin solo, and at certain part of the song hear just the string sections. They have to kill it by playing the horn section too.

That's the Istana Budaya Orchestra for you.

Sorry, I digress.

I honestly believe the arrangements made by Loo Shu Chin, Vivian Chua, Luqman Aziz are not up to the MPO standard, and in the end, it reflects badly on the MPO and M Nasir. Unfortunately. They tried too hard to turn these songs into symphonic version with too many 'rolling' or 'gorengs' - excuse my terminology - by the violin sections that made it difficult for us mere mortals to follow.

To aggravate the situations, the arrangers tend to play every instrument that is available; at times it seems to their fancy. Put in everything; these people are world class musicians - that seems to be their thinking process. The horn section to me seems to be playing all the time so much so that when the string section was doing their part, I could barely hear them.

Who are these people, beyond Mokhzani Ismail, Ahmad Muriz and Ruslan Iman? I have enjoyed Ahmad Muriz as a conductor; this time around his arrangements are so so only. Datuk Mokhzani did well with Suatu Masa, while Ruslan Imam, another good arranger only had a hand on one song.

Perhaps some of them should stick to arranging musics for Orkestra RTM!

I thought the original arrangement of Bonda was excellent. I thought the final recorded version was excellent - the violin, guitar, flute and drum made the mood of this song (If I am not mistaken, this song was recorded in Australia, no?).

But Vivian Chua, as she did with Andalusia, spoiled it. To me, the first half (Apokalips, Kias Fansuri, Keroncong untuk Ana (I was paying attention to the wonderful piano rhythm that made this song a keroncong), Mustika, Bonda, Kepadamu Kekasih) is a total lost. I can't hear M Nasir that much that I was wondering what I was doing at the DFP Hall.

Mind you I was seated at the no 2 rows so I could see M Nasir very clearly but I barely hear him that night!

I would not have mind it if they were to play these songs without M Nasir. I would have enjoyed it better in instrumental form. It is wonderful performances by the MPO. But I could barely hear M Nasir; and even if I did hear him, I thought somehow the music and his vocal are NOT in sync, that they are totally alien to each other.

There was little, if any, chemistry between the MPO and M Nasir, despite the banter between Kevin and M Nasir. (Kevin at one stage handed a packet of KitKat, much to laughter of the crowd, and M Nasir after the Mentera Semerah Padi song explained to Kevin Field that Hang Tuah used to sing that song!)

To me, most of the blame lies with the arrangers. They murdered the arrangement of M Nasir's songs to make them sound symphonic, without realizing that they are talking about M Nasir's compositions in the first place. These songs requires little, if any, tweaking.

The sound system at the DFP may also have played a role. May be M Nasir's mike should be made many notch louder than the rest of the orchestra for us to fully embrace his vocal performance, which I thought was quite good.

In the end, as I have said before, too many of the arrangers were trying too hard to turn M Nasir song into symphonic versions. That, to me, is the main fault of this concert; an aspect that I did not really enjoy. I mean, I have been to many pop (and classical) concerts at the DFP and I have enjoyed many, if not all, of them.

But not this one.

I have to be honest here eventhough I have admired M Nasir all my life. In fact, deep in my heart, I want Akmal to be like M Nasir, not much of a performer, but a legend when it comes to song writing. It is a tall order, but that's the level of respect I have for him in my mind and heart.

M Nasir did not deserve any of my criticisms. Actually I can't say only bad things about him and not say all the good part of him being M Nasir. Sure he missed it totally during Keroncong untuk Ana - he was too fast in the first para. He missed a few cues during a few other songs. But hey, even sifu made mistakes; he is afterall human. And I thought he did extremely well on Suatu Masa. Great arrangement; it was perhaps the best tonight. I can always relate to this song, and if I had recorded all the songs performed last night on tape, I would delete them all, but leave this one on.

This song is about the years that have gone by. A different lifestyle then; a lifestyle that would require you to write letters to communicate to someone far away, and I used to do that a lot. Many a times, I would have to do what he did (in the song) and chuck away those letters.

So it is not just for the memory, but for the fact, I love the arrangement simply because it follows the spirit of the original song. Only better - this time in full philharmonic orchestra! I could follow this song, and I could have shed a tears or two, had it continued on for another minute or more. 

That's Suatu Masa for you. It is that powerful.


I have enjoyed The Beatles at the MPO. I have enjoyed the Oscars at the MPO, all the movie themes. I have also enjoyed S M Salim's Asli concert at the MPO, and Kathy (Ibrahim) and Azlina Aziz performing with the PPAG. Beautiful musics all around, I must add.

A sister of mine also did not enjoy the concert. Just like me she was very enthusiastic in the beginning texting to me that she was going to a concert that I have bought tickets six months early. In the end, she said, "I have enjoyed listening to Streisand accompanied by the orchestra and love it. But not this concert."

"It could have been magical," she continued.
The queue for his signature, and the chance to chat and shake
his hand.
But despite that, she went on to get his signature. [LOL]

The queue is way too long for me, but still people would eat anything out of his hand. That's M Nasir for you. He was wondering why he has many fans; why people like him so much. He said he wanted to be a comedian and a dance but he said his jokes made people angry, and I think people do not think much of his dancing style.

But thankfully, as he said it himself at the concert, he became M Nasir!

Thank Allah for that.

During the concert, while he is not much of a talker (or entertainer), the audience were feasting from the palm of his hand. They cheered him loudly; they were dancing to his song at the end of the concert. Really. He managed to get everybody standing and singing to "Dalam baju, ada cinta" (ADA) song through an extended repertoire.

That's M Nasir for you. He could do no wrong to their eyes, and yes, he did no wrong at the concert as far as I am concerned, despite some hiccups from the sifu himself! Sort of. ;))
Hmm, short hair and less beard. This is not M Nasir to me. He lost a bit of his charisma
when he turned up in this shape. I want the old (funky) M Nasir back!
TO me, there is nothing not to like - and love - about him, and his talent. If I could have 10% of his talent, I would be extremely grateful. I do hope Akmal would one day inherit some of his talent. Amin.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Diambang Senja

Entah kenapa tiba-tiba teringat lagu Ahmad Jais ini. Elok pulak di waktu hampir senja begini.

Teringat liriknya, tapi lupa siapa nyanyi dan tajuknya. Search di google, aah, of course, Ahmad Jais. Love the lyric, the melody and the piano arrangement.

"Hanya seperti bayang-bayang, walaupun ada, dikau tiada,"

Indahnya maya
bagiku hanya muram durja
Tak pernah riang
rasa sukma
Laksana kembang di pusara
terkulai kering layu tak bermaya

Tiap ku pandang
hanya seperti bayang-bayang
walaupun ada, dikau tiada
Begitu kasih yang ku puja
mengalir airmata teman duka
ku menangis tak bernada
diambang senja