Saturday, 15 December 2018

Translating Literally

I saw 'one night stand' translated into Bahasa as 'pendirian satu malam'. Must have also been done by the same nutters who do not have the depth of intellect to understand that the word 'angel' can be used in multiple contexts.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018


Kalau tidak mahu dikeji, dihina, ditindas dan dipijak, janganlah berkelakuan seperti siamang mengamuk tunjuk kuat di tengah jalan. Buat digelak dek orang saja.
Sebaliknya perkemaskan keperibadian. Bertindak dan berfikirlah sebagai satu masyarakat yang tinggi adabnya, mulia akhlaknya, adil dalam tindak-tanduknya, amanah dalam urusannya. Jadilah satu masyarakat yang tinggi pengetahuannya, mahir dalam pekerjaannya dan bijaksana dalam kepimpinannya.
Pendek kata, jadilah contoh dan teladan. Jadilah sebuah masyarakat yang sesuai dengan hak-hak istimewa yang telah diberikan. Inilah cara supaya masyarakat Melayu tidak dikeji, dihina, ditindas dan dipijak. Ia bermula dengan diri sendiri. Adakah kamu bersedia untuk menggalas tanggung jawab ini?
Mulai hari ini, hentikanlah juga berkiblatkan pemimpin yang korup tetapi masih berbaju kot dan bertali leher. Hentikanlah juga berkiblatkan pemimpin yang sanggup menunggang agamanya demi kepentingan peribadi.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Person Who Taught Me English

Over the years as a freelance trainer I have taught English to perhaps a few thousand people. Now, this is the person who taught me English - Mrs Mary Shanti Dairiam. She is one of the people who has made all this possible.

Apart from having been my English teacher, she is also one of the nicest people anyone could ever have the privilege of knowing. The thing about Mrs Dariam is that she didn't just teach me English - she also taught me what life was about.

Thank you, Mrs Dairiam.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Selesa is No More

Nobody is ever prepared for that inevitable moment when the end comes. Though we might have seen it coming for quite some time, when the end actually embraces us in its trembling embrace, the moment is never what we thought it would be. I just never thought this would apply to the closing of a hotel.

In the past seven years or so, I’ve been doing a lot of work for a client in Pasir Gudang, Johor. Almost invariably, the client would put me up at the Selesa Hotel. For the past twenty years or so the Selesa has been Pasir Gudang’s premier hotel. In fact, it is the only decent hotel that serves the Pasir Gudang area. Come 15 March 2017 it will be closing its doors to the public for good.

As I am unfamiliar with the star-rating system for hotels, I have no idea how many stars I would give the Selesa. Let’s just say the Selesa occupies a space somewhere between The Sheraton Imperial (where the bath towel is even more expensive than my weekend sports watch) and the no-frills hotels that bear two-syllable Chinese names we usually find in smaller towns (where the thinning bath towels are so tiny that I can hardly wrap them around my waist).

I have met many who have stayed at the Selesa. More often than not, the general consensus is that it hardly lives up to its name. I suppose in its early days the Selesa might have been a nice place to stay (one of my childhood friends was even the General Manager once). But I suppose financial difficulties, challenging maintenance issues and poor design finally took its toll. Once in a while, much to my consternation, I have found the occasional cockroach crawling up my headboard and a toilet or two that just refused to flush properly no matter what I did. However, to the Management’s credit, a maintenance guy would always come along within in a few minutes to fix the problem. Still, in the case of a non-flushing toilet, embarrassment was always part of the deal.

Despite all this, I have grown very fond of the hotel. Yes, hospitality professionals are trained to serve you well. But my experience tells me that things at the Selesa were something else - for me, at least. At the standard 5-star hotel, for instance, I could never shake the feeling that the polish and smiles of the staff were just their training kicking in. At the Selesa, however, I have never needed any vigorous convincing to believe that the staff treated me more like a friend than just another guest. Of course, having had more than 600 room-nights over the past seven years at the hotel has had something to do with this.

Yes, there have been cockroaches. Yes, there have been toilets that wouldn’t flush. Yes, there have been occasions when the lifts would fail (sometimes with me in it). But their coffee house still serves the best mee goreng mamak in the country – even better than the one at the mamak stall in Kampung Jawa, Melaka. And while everybody else gets two sachets of Nescafe for their room every day, I get four.  Oh, and there’s also that bit about me getting only the biggest, cleanest, and fluffiest bath towels whenever I stayed at the hotel.

I’m not saying that the Selesa has the mystique and history of the former Majestic Kuala Lumpur, the former Station Hotel of Ipoh or the former E&O Hotel of Penang. Anyone with an IQ above 50 would be able to tell the difference between these hotels and the Selesa. What I’m saying is that over the years I have developed a soft spot for the hotel.

Let’s say money was not an issue and the Raffles were to open right next to the Selesa, would I still choose to stay at the Selesa? I would still choose the Selesa in a heartbeat. Of course, this is all academic now. Come 15 March, the Selesa will be no more.

And when I checked-out of the Selesa for the last time yesterday, the staff and I parted ways with hugs instead of handshakes. No, there were no tears. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

It's a Homage

Let’s face it. Realistically, some things we can never have – at least, not in this lifetime. Yes, positive thinking is powerful stuff. But even positive thinking has its limits.

Take the Rolex Milsub (reference numbers 5513 and 5517), for example. To say the Milsub is a nice watch is not much different from saying that Angelina Jolie is only a so-so girl. No one ought to be able to say things like that and not deserve to die by the delivery of a well-timed Steven Seagal iriminage to the throat. Yes, Milsubs (military Submariner) are unbelievably beautiful watches.

But there’s more to the Milsub than just a pretty face, though. For instance, let’s look at the 5513 (the rarer of the two) which made its debut in 1976. Though both the 5513 and the 5517 were made exclusively for the British Royal Navy, only 1,200 units of the 5513 were ever produced. On top of all that, if one ever surfaced for sale on the market today, the asking price would be a mind-blowing, dream-crushing, ego-destroying USD150,000 - or more.

The Rolex Milsub (Military Submariner)
Now, what’s the likelihood of someone like me finding USD150,000 lying idle around the house in this lifetime? To anyone who thinks this is a realistic possibility, please search Youtube to see what a Steven Seagal iriminage looks like. Now, ponder effect of this technique being applied on you.

But let’s say – for argument’s sake – that by some miracle I do find USD150,000 lying idly about. Would I blow it all on a Rolex Milsub? I suppose I could. But then again, I’d probably be immediately struck down by lightning for committing such an obscene extravagance. What good would the Milsub be to me then?

This is where homage watches come in. Homage watches are watches that are created as a tribute to the original. They stay as true to the spirit of the original as religiously as possible, but at the same time making it a point to retain an identity all their own.

At this point you might be asking, just how is that different from a fake/counterfeit/knock-off watch? Personally, I think it all boils down to intent. The homage watch doesn’t seek to fool anybody into thinking it’s the real thing. Its intent is solely to be a tribute to the original. The fake, on the other hand, goes all out from the get-go to make anyone and everyone believe that it is the real thing. Thus, in my books, homage watches are fine. Fake watches, on the other hand, are the horologic equivalents of silicone boobs: nice to see and (probably) hold, but after the novelty wears off, nobody ever really wants them anymore.

This brings us to a German company that produces Swiss made watches: Steinhart. Steinhart has made a niche for itself by creating homages to some of the most iconic watches in the world. In our case, the Steinhart Ocean Vintage Military Version 2 (OVM2) is a homage to the mind-blowing, dream-crushing and ego-destroying USD150,000 Rolex Milsub (specifically, the 5517 version).

The Steinhart OVM2 stays true to the spirit of the Rolex 5517 Milsub – right down to slightly domed sapphire crystal, the radium-coloured lume and minute-markers that go all the way around the rotating bezel. However, it departs from the original in that it proudly (and unmistakably) presents the Steinhart logo just below the watch’s 12 o’clock index marker. The Steinhart also sports a more modern 42mm case diameter as opposed to the 40mm of the Milsub. Finally, the Steinhart OVM2 has removable lug-pins rather that the fixed ones as found on the Milsub.

The Steinhart OVM 2
Naturally, the Steinhart OVM is powered by a more modern movement: the ETA2824-2. One feature of this movement is that it allows for hand-winding. This is a major nostalgic plus for me as it harks back to the days when I used to watch my grandfather wind his Rolex Oysterdate every morning. The ETA 2824-2 movement is also hackable. This means that when we adjust the time, the seconds hand stops. This allows us to synchronise the time with other watches much more easily. For a borderline OCD like me, this is a Godsend.

Close up of the OVM 2
In the end, the Steinhart OVM2 is NOT the Rolex Milsub. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong in that. The trouble begins when we start thinking (and start wanting others to also think) that the OVM is actually a Milsub. That’s when all sorts of bad things happen. Getting the OVM2 is like finally finding a girl who is just like the girl we’ve always wanted – the one we’ve been pining for all our lives, but who has always been, and will always be out of reach. As long as we know (and accept) they are not the same people, we’re going to do just fine.

Once again, the OVM is NOT the Milsub. The aesthetic cues and (more importantly) the spirit of the OVM2 may point to the Milsub. But they are still different watches. The OVM2 is a homage to the Milsub; it does not pretend to be the Milsub.

It is what it is.

At a mere 0.29% of the price of a Milsub, the OVM2 is looking like a pretty good proposition to me. Even so, I accept that not everybody will see it this way – especially not those with USD150,000 to spend on a watch.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

It's About Time

It’s probably safe to say that four out of five wristwatch owners are missing out on the joys of owing a watch. Here, I would like to share some insights into the simple pleasures of owning a watch (or watches). It doesn’t matter if you own a RM15 Mickey Mouse watch that you bought from a kiosk at the local shopping mall or a RM150K two tone vintage gold Rolex that you inherited from a rich uncle. At some level, the pleasure (believe it or not) is going to be just about the same.

In this post, I’ll start with something horologists call movement (also known as calibre). To most of us, this what we would normally call the engine of the watch – the mechanism that makes it tick. I’ll be discussing the main types of movements and what they have to offer. Hopefully, this will help you appreciate your watch a bit better and enjoy the watch even more. Who knows? This might even help you make a more informed decision for when you buy your next watch. At the very least, with this information you might just be able to surprise your watch aficionado friends the next time the subject of watches crops up.

Quartz Watches

I’ll start with the more popular (as in ubiquitous) movement. Known as quartz movements, these probably accounts for over 90% of watches out there. In quartz watches, a battery of some sort is always involved. The battery powers the watch and helps the quartz regulate the accuracy of movement.

It all began when Seiko began making the first commercially viable quartz watches back in the early 70s. The Quartz Revolution (as it is called), took the world by storm and almost killed off the mechanical watch industry. Quartz movements are popular because they are cheap, accurate, and reliable. For example, a bog standard quartz watch might gain or lose maybe 20 seconds in an entire month. A reasonably good mechanical movement, on the other hand, might gain or lose that same amount of time in a single day. On top of that, a quartz watch will most likely cost only a fraction of the price of a mechanical watch.

Switzerland, Japan and China are the biggest makers of quartz movements. They produce these by the millions and supply them to watch companies the world over. As you might expect, watches powered by a Swiss movement will usually cost more than one powered by a Japanese quartz movement. Notable quartz movements are Ronda, ESA (both Swiss) and Miyota (Japan). The RM15 Mickey Mouse watch is probably going to be powered by a no-name Chinese movement. However, China-made quartz movements are currently making tremendous inroads into the entry-level and lower mid-tier quartz watch categories.

Mechanical Watches

Next, we’ll talk about mechanical movements. This is the historical and traditional way of making watches. A mechanical movement relies on energy supplied by winding a spring to power the watch. No batteries are involved. If you lay down all the parts of a mechanical movement on a table, they do absolutely nothing on their own. However, when assembled by a skilled craftsman, these parts magically come to life and move the hands of a watch with the precision the required in time-keeping. Mechanical movements will always involve the skill and experience of a craftsman. It is a science as well as an art. It always has been, it always will be. This is why watch collectors, enthusiasts and obsessives will almost always prefer a mechanical watch.

When discussing mechanical movements, there are two types we need to be to be aware of: the automatic and hand-winding. The automatic is one that harnesses the movement of your arm to power the watch. As long as the watch is in a state of motion, you are in effect, ‘charging’ the watch. This is why some call this a perpetual movement. However, leave it motionless on your desk for a few days and the watch will stop ticking. To start it again, just give the watch a few gentle shakes and it will come back to life.

By far, the most popular maker of automatic movements is ETA (owned by the Swatch group). ETA movements and modified ETA movements can be found in almost all Swiss brands. The Seiko-Epson group also produces movements that it supplies to other watch companies (for example to Tag Heuer). While still a relatively unknown, China-made mechanical movements (e.g. Tianjin Seagull) are also finding their way into some watch brands.

The thing about mechanical watches is that not all watch companies (and this is where it gets interesting) use movements mass produced by the likes of ETA or Seiko-Epson to power their watches. Some companies produce their own movements in-house. Frederique Constant and Orient are examples of watch-makers that offer in-house movements.

The hand-winding movement, on the other hand, requires energy supplied by hand-winding the crown to power the watch. Forget to wind-up the watch and you might find that it will stop ticking in the middle of your business day. Chances are these were the kind of watches our grandfathers had. I still have fond memories of my grandfather hand-winding his Rolex every morning. Today, the hand-winding movement (for some reason) is found only in higher-end modern mechanical watches. Of course, you will also find hand-winding movement in vintage (pre-1971) watches, but let’s not go there for now.

So What?

Knowing the various movements available allows us to appreciate our watches more. It also gives us an opportunity to make better informed choices in the future: making choices that go beyond the mere aesthetic appeal of a watch.

Do you prefer the clinical accuracy of a quartz watch? Yes, they are cheaper and more robust. But after 15 years or so, it’s likely you’re going to have to junk it: repairing it will cost more than buying a new one.

Or do you prefer the artistry, craftsmanship and romance behind a mechanical watch? Yes, they require a bit more maintenance and cost a bit more. But they also tend to last forever (when maintained well) and can be heirloom pieces to be enjoyed through generations.

In the end, the decision will largely depend on the kind of person you are and what you want in life. Quartz or mechanical? It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that your choice in something as personal as a wristwatch ought to be as close an approximation as possible to who you are as a person.

This matters because the watch does not make the person; the person makes the watch.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015


Show me an enthusiast and I’ll show you an opinionated person. That’s the nature of an enthusiast. It doesn’t matter what their chosen field of endeavour might be. It doesn’t matter if they are guitar players, bicyclists, coffee lovers, cupcake makers, card-carrying party member or whatever. Enthusiasts will have strong opinions. Photographers, too, are no exception to the rule. However, before you start vigorously swinging your tripods and chasing me on the streets with the intent of doing me grievous bodily harm, let me first say that being opinionated is not necessarily a bad thing. It might be annoying, but it isn’t necessarily bad.

Here, I’ll be talking about a wildly popular genre of photography: street photography. I will try to explain what the experts think it is, why it’s so popular and how street photography might end-up killing itself. This is relevant simply because it will hopefully help us became better (street) photographers.

First let’s look at demographics. Easily sixty per cent of Malaysians live in urban and suburban areas. So, statistically speaking, if you happen to be a photography enthusiast there is a three in five chance you’d be an urban-dweller. As such, what would be the natural environment for your photographic pursuits? Yup, it would be the city streets simply because it will more convenient to you. Thus, it is likely that sixty per cent of photographers will turn out to be street photographers. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s just demographics.

Now let’s look at what the experts think street photography might be. To paraphrase the experts, street photography is any photograph taken in a public place that captures people in candid situations. So far, so good. But that’s only a starting point – a working definition.

Over the years, many have added to this. For example, street photography means never shooting the subject from the back. Street photography isn’t about shooting homeless people. Street photography is about using only natural light. Real street photographers never post-process their images. Real street photographers shoot only in black-and-white. The list goes on blah, blah, blah…

Now here comes the spanner in the works. For every single rule in street photography, there will be one that advocates its diametric opposite. It is OK to shoot the subject’s back if it conveys the desired effect. It’s OK to shoot homeless people if done tastefully. It is OK to shoot in colour because Vivian Maier also occasionally shoots in colours. It is OK not to have people in the photo of it strongly depicts the spirit of the streets. The list goes on. For every rule there is always a counter-rule. The only one remaining common ground seems to be that the photo must be taken in a public place. Then again, we don’t know how long this rule will survive.

The problem here becomes, if we take into consideration all of street photography’s rules and counter-rules, the genre becomes so nebulous that the genre ends up becoming meaningless. In theory, at least, a nude portrait (obviously posed, not candid) shot in a secluded part of the Lake gardens using a barrage of remotely triggered strobes and then extensively photoshopped to include a few Star Wars storm-troopers might just qualify as street photography. Obviously, this is a ridiculous outcome. However, it is still street photography because it has taken into account all the rules and counter-rules.

The ‘No rule is the rule’ maxim might work for Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, but for street photography, a free-for-all, no-holds-barred melee will take it back full circle to plain old photography. The ‘I-will-shoot-whatever-I-want-in any-manner-I-want-as-long-as-it-is-in-a-public-place’ school of thought might be seductive, but it should not legitimately be called street photography. Not too long ago it was simply called photography. This is why the ‘street-photography-is-whatever-I-choose-it-to be’ philosophy will be the genre’s own undoing. This anything-goes mindset will eventually obliterate the genre’s credibility. It will be shame because street photography is such a vibrant and exciting genre.

Where to now? Personally, I think it all boils down to discipline. Yes, the anything-goes approach is seductive. But so are designer drugs, mindless spending and free sex. The way to go is perhaps to choose three or four established rules of street photography and stick to that until we’ve built a substantive body of work that feature those rules. After that, move on to other rules, maybe incorporate a counter rule or two and then build another body of work based on that. By doing this we will establish credibility for the genre, and at the same time turn it into a credible discipline – the art form that street photography deserves to be. Who knows? This might even turn street photography into a paying proposition.

I know, rules suck. However, I think we’ve established that having no rules suck even worse.

If you still want to take a swing at me with your tripod, I can usually be found shooting outside my home in Umbai, Melaka with my trusty Fuji X100.