Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Home Appetite

Home is the most important place on earth. It is the place where the best teaching occurs and where the most lasting learning takes place. In the home, each member of the family can be fed with love and nourished with care and concern. Spiritual and emotional appetites are sustained and a unified, positive outlook on life is nurtured.

The same goes with food. Home-cooked food is most certainly the best, cheapest and tastiest. It feeds our physical appetite the same way being in a loving home caters to our spiritual, emotional and mental cravings.

Here is a gorgeous meal we prepared recently. Sweet and sour fish adorned with onion and tomato, coupled with a vegetable soup. It was nothing short of delicious!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Goals aid positivity

Setting clear, specific goals, writing them down, and developing the desire to achieve them, is a positive step forward for anyone, any time, and under any circumstances. Achieving daily goals brings great satisfaction. A thrill that one has set goals, wrote them down, followed their priorities, and at the end of the day has a list which has been fully checked.

It is the feeling that one's life is actually moving forwards in a favourable direction, instead of remaining stagnant and largely unproductive. My chief goals are largely spiritual in nature, but whether they may be spiritual, emotional, physical, financial or any other type, progression triggers a positive attitude.

Since I have begun prioritizing each day with a list of goals to achieve, I have been able to fill my days with worthwhile things, use time more wisely, and enjoy an increased positive attitude, not just concerning my goals, but towards my outlook on life.

The ability to always think positive, to welcome challenges with enthusiasm, to not allow things to drag you down, is a great asset indeed. As I aforementioned my spiritual goals, prayer has been a powerful, motivating force which has contributed to this positive outlook.

I have been able to better live my religion by setting goals and sorting out my priorities, and so my conscience, not just on religious items, but on life in general, is clearer and more comfortable. Having a clear conscience is a vital part of attaining a positive attitude. We know what is right and wrong, what is good for us to do, and what will have negative effects on ourselves.

A particular verse of scripture serves as my motivation to work towards the peace it describes: "I can answer a clear conscience before God this day." While we can't be perfect, we can take steps to work towards obtaining a clearer conscience regarding our various duties, obligations and responsibilities, which in turn, brings peace of mind.

With a clear conscience, clear priorities, and clear goals, we will be able to reap the fruits of positivity each and every day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The art of complaining

Things eventually came to an amicable end after an absolute palaver that lasted months. My allegiance with Alliance and Leicester bank has finally ended positively after months of unnecessary wrangling with the company.

Some time last year, (I forget exactly when) I withdrew a little too much money from an ATM here and wasn't aware of it for a few days. The fluctuating exchange rates didn't help matters. After a few days my mother in England noticed I was in overdraft by a tiny 54 pence and immediately credited my account with one pound sterling.

However, from here, things deteriorated drastically as I was hit with overdraft charges of five pounds per day in overdraft. Stupidly, Alliance and Leicester didn't take one bit of notice to the fact I had deposited the one pound to cover the slight overdraft. They continued to stamp me with charge after charge until, unbelievingly, I was apparently in over two hundred pounds of debt!

I sent a number of emails to the bank boldly explaining my predicament and flatly refusing to pay a penny for such ridiculous charges. My mum also helped out by composing a couple of solid letters to further reinforce our position in these unfair charges.

The bank not once replied one of my secure messages, instead posting threatening letters to my home in England declaring that if I didn't cough up these exorbitant fees they would take me to court. But we remained firm, knowing that a court would surely laugh at a two hundred pounds plus charge over a measly 54 pence!

We didn't hear from the bank for a while until I finally received word from my mum that Alliance and Leicester had waived all charges! Rather cheekily, they also wanted to know if I would be keeping my account open with them. (I had previously cancelled my account on line so that no further charges could be added). For the record, I surely stand by my original decision. Alliance and Leicester have caused me nothing but trouble since I moved to Malaysia and I'm glad to see the back of them.

My message today is that we are perfectly within our rights as customers, clients and consumers, to complain if we are not satisfied. I remember back when I was a child, my mum made a complaint about something or other concerning a chocolate bar. We received a nice letter of acknowledgement and regret from the company together with some free chocolate. (Mum, please correct me if my memory is fading!)

We have a right to make complaints in order that we as the recipients of certain services may receive the quality that companies guarantee, and also that the company involved may analyse its services and seek for improvement. The last thing a company wants is unhappy customers!

I'm thrilled that my complaints were eventually heeded and common sense won the day after a long journey. Imagine the outrageous fees I would have been required to pay if I hadn't complained and let my voice be heard!

I now settle for the much more hassle-free service of international money transfer through Western Union, which is quick and easy to use, and carries no extra usage fees.

So remember, if you're not satisfied, complain!!!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Goal Setting Tips

When attempting to plan our lives and get organised, we need to set goals.

Firstly, a considerable amount of time is required to ask ourselves where we are going. You might try engaging in a soliloquy in a quiet room and writing down your uttered thoughts. Try making a list of your top 100 goals and the things you want to accomplish. (This may take days, if not weeks, until you complete the list. I stalled at 13 and am still contemplating what I really want to achieve!)

Secondly, try writing more specific descriptions of the 100 goals you have set. The more specific you can make it, the more realistic it will appear and the more personal it will become.

Finally, write down the reasons why you want to achieve all of these goals on your list. Is it something that will help you to become a better person? Will it earn you more money? Will it enable you to better help loved ones or those around you? Then think of all the benefits of reaching your desired goals? Write them down. Again, you may need to do a lot of thinking throughout this exercise. What are your true emotions and feelings behind these goals?

By following these steps, we are analysing ourselves, our lives, sorting out the priorities, organising our time, and most importantly, creating desire.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Choose to Prioritise

The days pass by quickly in Kuantan. The Sun seems to travel from east to west at slingshot velocity, and the question recently popped into my head: 'Where am I going with my life?' Or indeed, 'Where is my life going?' As days, weeks and months rapidly expire and become obsolete, we can easily find that we have just strolled along and not really done anything important, meaningful or necessary. We sometimes get caught up in busy work, merely settling for the same old routine we observe in our current surroundings.

I wake up around 7am, a little earlier or a little later depending on my fancy, I see the woman downstairs at the restaurant preparing noodles. My neighbour hangs dripping clothes on her balcony to my left around 8.30am, and the cake shop opens at 9.30am. Before that, my Indian neighbour noisily revs his motorbike, sending plumes of dirty smoke into the air for a good few minutes. Lauren wakes up and watches cartoons all morning, and so on and so on. The same things happen day in, day out.

We can literally get 'stuck' in a rather boring world which passes away together with our lives, all too quickly.

The only way out of this trap is to prioritise.

In order to successfully prioritise, we must first decide what we really want out of our life. We all have things we would love to achieve, places we would love to visit, books we would like to read, dreams that we wish would come true.

After spending a good deal of time pondering over my desires (both immediate and long-term) I attempted to prioritise them, putting the most urgent and necessary one first. Then comes the setting of goals.

A goal not written down is just a wish

There are many things we wish we could accomplish but never seem to be able to find the time to do! We are always busy with other things. When we make priorities and set goals, there are no other things more important. It is true that we always have the time for our priorities. It's just that we never actually write them down and seriously prioritise them.

Fail to plan; plan to fail

I started with a goal to finish reading through the Holy Bible. I started it some time last year when there was some raw excitement but soon the enthusiasm died, and many other less-important things began filling my day. The reason? My desire was not strong enough to put in writing. Recently I wrote a specific goal and I keep it where I can see it. I have other goals which are long-term and I'm developing an 'action plan' for them, involving breaking them down into sub-goals which are more manageable and achievable on a day-to-day basis.

I am finding that as I prioritise my life through the writing of goals, I get more things done, including the other little things, and I am a lot more happier in general. It's really the only way to get things done. It's like a new life has started and I'm just savouring every moment of these current circumstances I have been so blessed with.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Scripture Power

It was Theodore Roosevelt who once quipped: "A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education." Considering my college education, this quote is quite correct. I have started re-reading the Bible where I left off in 2Kings of the Old Testament sometime last year.

I know the Old Testament doesn't sound particularly smooth sailing for the virgin reader or the seasoned professional alike, but I have begun to discover many hidden treasures that enhance my day and strengthen my testimony. So today I would like to share with you a few things I learned recently about an extremely rare king who ruled in righteousness - this king was called Josiah.

Josiah ordered a group of people to work on re-furbishing the temple. Whilst repairing the temple, Hilkiah the high priest found the book of the law (the writings of Moses, containing the Law of Moses), which seemingly had been neglected over hundreds of years of wickedness. A succession of wicked kings had seen the scriptures buried away gathering dust in some forgotten corner whilst they practised idolatry and human sacrifice.

Do we sometimes stumble across our scriptures after weeks or months of being left on the shelf, to realise that our lives have been way out of line with what the Lord expects of us in his scriptures?

I like this message.

When Josiah heard all that was written in the book of the law, he "rent his clothes", an act that demonstrated sorrow, regret, a beginning of repentance. He knew the people of Judah were living in wickedness, which seemed to be magnified all the more horribly when compared to the Lord's written standards. Josiah cried,

"for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according to all that which is written concerning us."

The scriptures are the yardstick against which we may judge our performance. 

The people of Judah under the reign of unrighteous kings, had lost sight of the Lord's standard, so much so that they had forgotten the commandments of the Lord. Josiah must have been extremely disappointed when he read Joshua's words about the scriptures which they had just found in a corner of a crumbling temple:

"This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." (Joshua 1:8)

When Josiah reflected on all the wars and destruction when they could so easily have had prosperity and success, it must have hurt.

Those who rarely study the scriptures will not be familiar with the Lord's standards until they eventually forget the commandments and do things in opposition to God's desire for us.

Instead, we are counselled numerous times in the Book of Mormon, to remember the words of God, and Christ and his atonement. The way we remember is through daily scripture study. This way, we are constantly keeping ourselves updated with the Lord's standards, familiar with the yardstick of obedience, and are therefore more easily able to keep and live them.

Joseph Smith remarked:

"He that can mark the power of Omnipotence, inscribed upon the heavens, can also see God's own handwriting in the sacred volume (of scripture): and he who reads it oftenest will like it best, and he who is acquainted with it, will know the hand wherever he can see it; and when once discovered, it will not only receive an acknowledgement, but an obedience to all its heavenly precepts."

{For reading concerning Josiah and the discovery of the book of the law, refer to 2 Kings 22.}

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lauren's Happy Meeting

At East Coast Mall recently, we tried the food at the fairly new 'The Chicken Rice Shop' and it was nice but not substantial. I was still pretty hungry afterwards. A trip to 'Big Apple' sorted that out with a box of 6 donuts filling us to the brim. Anyway, Lauren met this life-size cartoon character outside a shop on the Ground Floor, and here is the photo capturing the excitement of the moment!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Two rainbows in 14 hours

Kuantan has been very kind to me. Gorgeous sunrises...stunning sunsets...pleasing nature. I love living here for these reasons and so many more. I have a fantastic wife and a beautiful daughter. I stay in a nice apartment which feels much like home after almost 4 years here now. And I am thoroughly enjoying teaching English from home to my students. I savour the peace and cool of the mornings and always look forward to a well-earned sleep early at night. Here in Malaysia we have Astro, which is the television service the equivalent of Sky TV in England. So I get to watch every single Manchester United game every week along with other top premier league and European games, exclusive coverage of the tennis Grand Slams, F1, and just about every other major sport you can think of. I have the internet to keep in touch with friends spread out across the globe.

Most recently, I have witnessed two rainbows stripe themselves over Bukit Sekilau in the space of 14 hours. One arrived yesterday evening as I was watering the plants, illuminated by the setting sun against a very fine drizzle which barely reached deck.

But the most impressive one presented itself early this morning as the heavy dawn rain was beginning to subside and the Sun was beginning to rise. I looked out the window to wave my wife off to work and my eyes met this most beautiful scene. To see these colours streaming in a perfect arch made me question the validity of ever producing black 'n' whites again. I ran to the cupboard to find a bag to collect all the gold in that big pot it's supposed to lie in. The end of the rainbow appeared to be quite clear!

{Click the picture to see a 2nd rainbow!}

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Last Week in Images

A bout of food poisoning has kept me away for a few days but I still have some images to share from the previous week before I was vomiting out the contents of my infected stomach. Thankfully, all appears to be well now. Enjoy the following pictures from Kuantan...

Sunrise over Kuantan at 7:22pm on 9th March

An extremely rare yellow hibiscus blooms from a branch in Bukit Sekilau

The most beautiful tree in Kuantan explodes with colour and vitality

Lauren enjoyed our walk around the block, but it was simply too hot! Here we find a welcome spot of shade

The following day we stay at home and Lauren poses nicely on a chair

Lauren gazes upwards as the wind blows the curtain skywards

A magnificently perfect sphere, the Sun sets once more below the hills of Kuantan

Day turns to night as the blazing ball snuggles up below the clouds

Lauren waits for a shower to pass before going on a walk with daddy around Bukit Sekilau

Friday, March 12, 2010

Remembering Singapore Part Three

Raffles Place. This is the downtown Singapore area, the home of businesses, the Esplanade, and more recently, the Formula One race circuit. We were in Singapore a couple of weeks before the race itself and witnessed last minute preparations to the circuit and grandstand, and wondered how the atmosphere would feel when Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso are racing around the city roads at 250km/h in the dark of night.

Here is another view of Raffles Place just a way down river on what is a lovely walk way to fill up the warm sunny afternoons. A small Merlion statue awaits at the end, and as water gushes out of its mouth, excited tourists hurriedly snap pictures to show their friends back home. 

And here are the more childish things we got up to nearby the Fullerton Hotel:

Not the best way to deal with obstreperous children

Perhaps an umbrella up the bum would do the trick!

As you can see, Singapore is very scenic and there are opportunities for memorable pictures wherever on the island you may be. The river was a particularly nice spot for photographing.

Clarke Quay, with its line of eateries was rather silent by day but exploded to life at night

We had a lengthy walk from Raffles Place to Eye on Singapore, the huge wheel with bullet capsules giving marvellous views of the city-state. We didn't go on it, I think it was being repaired or serviced at the time, and would have made our wallets considerably thinner. However, the grounds were beautiful and we spent some time exploring and relaxing.

The Esplanade theatres is a place that I have photographed quite often but never actually been inside to see a play. I think the outer facade of the building itself, (known as the 'durian' building due to its striking likeness with the revolting durian fruit - how can they call it fruit?) is as famous, if not more, as what actually goes on inside. So here we are in another one of my pictures outside the building:

Our Singapore holiday was a great trip where we saw the sights, took pictures, recorded hilarious videos, but most importantly, I spent some rare time with my dad and enjoyed every minute of his company.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lost in translation!

A somewhat confused English translation to this basic symbol appears to be requiring its visitors to curb their 'animal instincts'!

Remembering Singapore Part Two

The best place to go in Singapore is most definitely Sentosa. A tiny island on the southern tip of Singapore, with a plaque reading 'Southernmost point of the Asian continent.' I guess Indonesia is not included as it is a collection of myriad islands and not attached to the mainland. Singapore of course, is attached via the Causeway, a bridge linking strikingly different countries. Singapore's growth has been electric while many parts of Malaysia still lag way behind. A 30-second drive across the bridge is like leaving one world for another.

And so it is with Sentosa. That too, is accessed by a bridge from the Singapore mainland. And what a place it is! I have been there on numerous occasions and enjoy it every time. (Now of course, there is the new Resorts World Sentosa {RWS} freshly built which has added even more to this amazing place).

I became acquainted with this sloping palm tree back in 2003 and I revisited it with my dad in 2008. It was still hanging firmly over the sea, even if we weren't, as can be seen in these shots:

We took a sweaty walk through the jungle which was a relief from the penetrating Sun but like a sauna as the trees kept in the humidity. We decided to hang out there for a while, and you'll see what I mean in this next picture:

A wooden staircase carved its way up through the lush vegetation. The surrounding greenery provided a good setting for a snap.

There are plenty of things to do around Sentosa, although you will need a fully loaded wallet to experience all of the thrills that await its customers. For those on a tighter budget, there are always the sandy beaches which outline the island, jungle treks, free animal performances, cheap bicycle rental and various other things to keep one occupied.

Incidentally, the wooden staircase led to a hotel swimming pool as a back passage. It was a tough climb.

The Merlion is the main attraction of the island, a huge white stone lion spraying out a fountain of water sitting on a rounding pool. The carriageway perpendicular to the Merlion is lined with water features for children's pleasure and acts as a photo opportunity to capture the big Merlion. Here's my dad by the water games:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Remembering Singapore Part One

My father and I journeyed to Singapore back in September 2008. A number of good things happened during these few days. I firmed up my relationship with my dad, we experienced a stay in a luxury hotel, and Roger Federer won the U.S. Open!

We took up accommodation at the Swissotel Merchant Court nearby Clarke Quay in downtown Singapore. The vast majority of things Swiss are always of the highest quality - chocolate, the Alps and Roger Federer immediately come to mind - and Swissotel was no further behind.

We arrived in the heat of the afternoon but the hotel looked most stunning by night, as in the above picture. We enjoyed an exploratory saunter around the hotel corridors, swimming pool and grounds, and just enjoyed relaxing for once in a while. Most hotels in Singapore, like anything else in this city-state, were luxurious, but Swissotel was affordable and exquisite. The room was basic but comfortable and homely, with a Samsung flatscreen on one wall and 'leopard-skin' carpets as my dad called them, although it was more like a tiger-skin design, but anyway. That became the source of much laughter after we returned with videos!

The view from the swimming pool area was stunning as it panned across Clarke Quay and all the shops and stalls dotted along the streets as well as the very fetching alien spacecraft type roofs in the background covering more shops and restaurants. We later went for a stroll through the nightlife and got caught in a deluge! Luckily, as I mentioned, there was plenty of cover!

This is my favourite picture from our Singapore holiday! In our closet, as we feverishly explored our room like all customers do, we came across these stylish night gowns and had a right laugh wearing them and here, pretending to be some Japanese hosts welcoming clients to their hotel! They were in fact extremely light and comfortable and I still regret not bringing them back home with us.

Yes, we really did enjoy these night gowns! And then there was the beautiful red Swissotel umbrella, which followed us around on all of our treks through Singapore and unwittingly appeared in a number of our photos. Should have packed that in our cases too!
We made a few videos of the hotel, which was great and provided some very humourous moments, clips which will be treasured for many years to come.

Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Confessions of a frustrated man

I am stuck in a love-hate relationship. Living with her is important but at times she just gets me down. These are my confessions which have been bottled up generally within the walls of my own home - until now.

Sometimes we get along very well. She loves football just like me, which is great, we can have controversial discussions on the world of football. She also loves tennis and keeps me filled in with what is going on. We can literally spend hours in sport.

She also helps me appreciate my family more, which is definitely a good thing. She consents to having my family visit me where I have been able to enjoy valuable hours with my parents.

But at times I just can't stand the mere sight of her, let alone attempt to bond with her. I tend to shout at her a lot when things take a turn for the worse, and what makes it really bad is how she just sits there saying nothing in response! I feel like pulling my hair out at times! It seems to be worse in the mornings, which gives me a bad mood for the rest of the day.

I'm always waiting for answers - she enjoys making me wait, and wait, and wait before she relieves me of the boredom. Yes, our relationship has reached a point where I demand quick love, yet I'm so slow to show it in return. I know, I'm bad, but we've been together for almost four years and perhaps the companionship is wearing thin. She's too big and I have often dreamed of having a new 'her', a thinner, sexy and more lovable version, but that's just too much of a price to pay right now.

Am I being too harsh? I mean, there are moments of passion, but if I spend too long with her, she just gives me a pain right between my temples. Yes, it gets that bad. But I continue to stay with her in this love-hate relationship because honestly, I can't afford the divorce and re-marriage bills.

I'm glad I've got these confessions off my chest. I hope you understand the way I feel. I guess I have to be thankful that I even have her in my house with me each day.

Because despite all her weaknesses, she is a miracle, so please, don't freeze me out any more, my dear computer!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Trek to Megamall

This was post was started yesterday but unfortunately Lauren decided to end my stint online when she switched off the computer for me, much to my annoyance. So here goes again!

On Monday we began our trek to Megamall which most people here would say is a ridiculously long journey to make under the hot Sun. However, Lauren and I were prepared with sunhats and caps and the journey is not that far actually, now that East Coast Mall is standing.

Lauren was fascinated with a plant along the way that closes when anything touches it. We stopped for a while to play with it and took this picture.

It is about a 5-minute walk from our home to East Coast Mall. The journey to Megamall is made dramatically shorter by taking a shortcut walking straight through East Coast Mall to the opposite side, as opposed to taking the road all the way around.

We paused to take another picture.

We then made the brief saunter to Megamall and there were adequate portions of shade on the way so that we didn't sweat even a little whilst still absorbing enough vitamin D from the early morning Sun to make us satisfied. Lauren loves Ronald McDonald and demonstrated it as we ate an ice-cream together.

On the facade of Megamall lies a huge poster of Wayne Rooney lifting the Champions League trophy. I couldn't resist incorporating Lauren into the picture:

She then put on a beautiful pose minus the best player in the world:

I bought my National Geographic magazine, and Lauren bought sweets, biscuits and chocolate with her 'ang pao' money. We reached home feeling invigorated from our exertions, and incredibly hungry. Guess what Lauren ate?!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A flowery scent in the air

Our balcony is alive and breathing. Not only do I enjoy photographing nature, I now have nature on my balcony, and as a result, can photograph my very own nature from the comfort of my own home. It's been a long while since I went on one of my long walks around Bukit Sekilau and surrounding areas on the hunt for new and mysterious flowers, trees and foliage. Nowadays it's just a little too hot. The El Nino phenomenon is seeing to that.

So here are some pictures of our orchids which slowly but surely blossomed and now hang 15 feet in the air from the railings of our balcony. The detail and beauty of their creation is astounding.

At long last a bud slowly begins to unfold

One by one, the new orchids gradually opened

View from the back...

...and from the front, although I marred the picture with my visible presence

A shaft of light spills onto this orchid, revealing the patterns on its petals

This glistening petal seems to glide effortlessly in the gentle breeze

The apartment block may be an eyesore, but it is beautified by the presence of these flowers. A striking contrast between old and new

Everything about these flowers says 'reproduction'. They exist not only to catch our eye with their pleasing designs, but also those of insects and flies who unwittingly are deceived by their ostentatious flirting into copulating unawares, and ultimately, ensuring the flowers' genes are passed on.


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