28 December 2012

A Full Table

'Twas a good table, 'twas!
All I could say on that grey morning of 22 Dec as I walked out to the dispersal was "Hi there gorgeous!!"
It had been more than a month since I last had control of the aircraft, and the ground confinement was beginning to inflict its own kind of cabin fever. Therefore I was grateful indeed to be called in for a flight test, and with that to wedge in my last flight for the year. It's more than most EC225 pilots can ask for of late due to the circumstances.

Hello there 9M-SPF!!

The requirement was for a flight test, for the HUMS device. 40 minutes of airborne time inclusive of maximum continuous power level flights were needed to get the HUMS analyses running. It had been a while since I had looked upon the face of the east coast from the air. It was a cloudy day, swift carpets flying in laden with rain, normally scattering precipitation over the range and into the Klang valley, but these were the incipients of the monsoon that would send Kuantan into its worst floods in 20 years.

Through the veil of mists, mother earth shows her face
There were many other helicopters in the air that morning. Since the company was not flying clients, our rival company across the tarmac had to work four times as  hard, and the traffic density reflected this quadrupled effort. I listened to the familiar sounds of departure calls from the pilots and the voice of the air traffic controller providing separation whilst accounting for our aircraft tracking the coastal route to Dungun at 2000 feet. His instruction to us was to remain over the land whilst the rest of the boys headed offshore, simplifying the separation process, and I reassured him that we would keep feet dry.

Gazing towards Dungun and a rain-swept shoreline
After establishing our location at Dungun at 2000 feet, I made the position report to the tower controller. Looking at the clock, I quipped to the captain that we had at least 20 minutes in the area to burn for the flight test. We adhered to the flight test profile, alternating between 100 knots and maximum continuous power, punching in the HUMS to record the flight regime conditions accordingly.

On a coastal route with that much time on our hands, I kept an eye on the Distance Measuring Equipment from Kerteh, to make sure we didn't stray out of the zone boundary at which we would come under Kuala Terengganu approach control. As we approached the 25-nautical mile mark, looking down, I saw Penerak for the first time since I joined the company. It was an airstrip, used as a reporting point between controlling authorities for the handing over and taking over control of aircraft. It has been used by various armed forces in joint training especially under the Exercise Bersatu Padu, but from the air it looked pretty disused, somewhat the way the Kuala  Penyu airstrip looks.

Sandbars enfringing the coast
Eventually our flight time was satisfied and I was given control of the aircraft for the approach to land. I noticed that I was not as tense as usual, even though I bore in mind the nature of this French machine as a less than willing partner than an American aircraft. As I completed the paperwork, I realised that this would be my final logbook entry for 2012. With Christmas on the horizon and predicted dates for the EC225 to be back on line being mid February, that closing thought was pretty much conclusive.

No chestnuts. Sigh....but there's  lamb!!!!
Christmas itself was a novel event. I had foreseen the usual, as we had done last year. A mundane attendance at mass. A sermon to pay no attention to. A drive to Kijal and its non eventful restaurants, with its unexciting menu at hand. But as it turned out, Christmas was to involve more than just the family.

Support your barbequeue Chef!! Pour him a Drambuie neat on the rocks!!
Mum-in-law was down, and so was Ethan on his Christmas break from the foundation course. Even though in the past, weeks of choir practice and a rousing midnight mass was what lent us the Christmas spirit, this diasporadic Catholic existence in Dungun made me consider that the spirit was to be sought elseways.
Thrills at the Grille
The visit from Father GT was a sure ripple in the monotony. He brought along a guest whom we had seen in our Dungun shoplot church, and well, we got to know her. We had a home-cooked lunch, and as I looked around the table where we nine were seated, I realised that I shouldn't have so foolishly pre-empted God's ability to turn a day around on its head. Brenda's own table was one that could only be described with words of satiety. Which was all good as Tina, Father GT's guest did invite us for a dinner following Christmas mass at Dungun. Which in turn was good because she and her mother, Mrs Gomes turned out a table so good that one would forget the existence of the various Arabic restaurants along the east coast. The Indian ginger pickles continuously called my name, and toasting after dinner with ginger wine warmed the belly as decently as any hearth could.
And he called for his pipe and he called for his bowl...
Then there was Christmas night itself, when two workmates and one parishioner dropped by armed with a bottle of red each. They stepped into the house and started on the hummus and celery while I fanned the barbie coals to embers before grilling loads of beef and lamb to succulent perfection for a loud and cheery dinner.
And they brought unto him gold, frankincense and myrrh
In all this, wouldn't I want to share good cheer with more of my friends? It is a day when frailty and humility was the choice of the supreme power of the universe, to befriend creation's most recalcitrant breed.
Would I not seek to bridge what gaps there may be? Indeed should I not??
Yet it is at this time of the year that the mouthpieces of the executive should seek to injure all and any manifestation of goodwill. We are not to be wished Merry Christmas. It is haram. Such edicts are no more God-ordained than the intent that drove the slaying of babies after Christ's birth in the hope of wiping Him out in the process: that innocent good is a mere pawn in the hands of those who wield power and authority.
I am speaking not against anyone, but speaking up for my friends across the faith divide. I was not deprived in any way, of Christmas wishes from my friends whatever  faith they professed.
For this, I thank you. What you do represents the way you believe your Creator to be. And come to think of it, just as was described in the Gospel of Matthew that the infant Jesus survived Herod's infanticide, the good we harbour shall survive the evil that is inflicted upon us.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year my friends. May your days ahead be blessed.

15 December 2012

Thin And Fat Again-A Hobbit's Song

The Hobbit is finally out!!

It is no secret that I am a Tolkien fan. The Lord Of The Rings is wrought of a language laden with quotables, but for me the one closest to my heart is this:

Aragorn: Gentlemen! We do not stop 'til nightfall.
Pippin: But what about breakfast?
Aragorn: You've already had it.
Pippin: We've had one, yes. But what about second breakfast?
Aragorn stares at him, then walks off.
Merry: Don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.
Pippin: What about elevensies? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he?
Merry: I wouldn't count on it Pip.

For I too, have gained my sillhouette from religious submission to a hobbit's mealtimes. And thence, do I finally find relevance in Adam Levine's lyrics. Perhaps the lipstick bit doesn't mesh perfectly, but for every other rhyme, the resonance is harmonious and most meaningful. There is an ongoing battle with weight, whereby the instruments of war are my Merida and the treadmill. So, in 21-platter salute to all those who struggle against that one last morsel, come on and anthem with me:

"One More Night"

You and I go hard at each other like we're going to war.
You and I go rough, we keep throwing things and slamming the door.
You and I get so damn dysfunctional, we stopped keeping score.
You and I get sick, yeah, I know that we can't do this no more.
Yeah, but baby there you go again, there you go again, making me love you.
Yeah, I stopped using my head, using my head, let it all go.
Got you stuck on my body, on my body, like a tattoo.
And now I'm feeling stupid, feeling stupid, crawling back to you.

So I cross my heart and I hope to die
That I'll only stay with you one more night
And I know I said it a million times
But I'll only stay with you one more night

Try to tell you "NO!!" but my body keeps on telling you "YES!!".
Try to tell you to "stop", but your lipstick got me so out of breath.
I'll be waking up in the morning, probably hating myself.
And I'll be waking up, feeling satisfied but guilty as hell.

Yeah, but baby there you go again, there you go again, making me love you.
Yeah, I stopped using my head, using my head, let it all go.
Got you stuck on my body, on my body, like a tattoo.
And now I'm feeling stupid, feeling stupid, crawling back to you.
So I cross my heart and I hope to die
That I'll only stay with you one more night
And I know I said it a million times
But I'll only stay with you one more night

Yeah, baby, give me one more night
Yeah, baby, give me one more night
Yeah, baby, give me one more night

Yeah, but baby there you go again, there you go again making me love you.
Yeah, I stopped using my head, using my head, let it all go.
Got you stuck on my body, on my body like a tattoo.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
So I cross my heart and I hope to die
That I'll only stay with you one more night
And I know I said it a million times
But I'll only stay with you one more night

So I cross my heart and I hope to die
That I'll only stay with you one more night
And I know I said it a million times
But I'll only stay with you one more night

04 December 2012


Kellie's Castle in profile
I know that many people would say they want a job with no work to do and a decent enough pay packet to have a good time with.
Yeah, perhaps we all want a job that doesn't throw out our backs.
The lift tower
I am at present, rarely at work. I have nothing to do! I do not ask to be this way. It's anyone's guess that I would much rather be up in the air than be stuck on the ground.
Yes, there are times when even work gets to be this way. Utter doldrums, boundless limbo and I hear the clamourings of nonchalant optimism that we will be off the ground soon in a decibular battle against the industry prophets of doom who insist that the end is not yet in sight.

The Peoples' Car, with currently valid road tax!!!
I believe that this hiatus is granted to me for a reason. I know that when I am on the work cycle, days melt into each other in a seamless conglomerate of sectors, month-end summaries, check rides and days off. There is the hunt for a breather to work out the outstanding chores, repairs in waiting and the loyalty to a fitness programme that each day slips further out of enforcement's reach. Since the words of the prophets say that there is no end in sight, I proposed, unchallenged by recognisably violent objections, a road trip to Taiping.
And they were each assigned very hazardous duties
Now, I know that being on the east coast means we stand many hours away from Taiping, a rough figure of 7 hours' drive on the best of days. But it's the one place that seems to have slipped past as a touristy seaside resort or favourite holiday destination, therefore we would be circumnavigating those hordes that soil our beaches after the industrial effluents have. I did grow up partly in Taiping, for the first 3 years of education at least, and I remembered vaguely as it may be, a Zoological garden and a museum. The kind of people who plugged up her hotels the last time I checked on the occupancy rates would be the kind who sought history, as Taiping is a heritage town. So Taiping it was!
The front view of the castle, with Mammoiselle Rue on the bridge
Brenda had for some time, even from the days of our courtship on the saddle of a Suzuki, asked for a visit to Kellie's Castle. It was time to sniff out this location, as my daughters were agog with their mother's thrilling suggestion. As the 1.8 litre Nu engine was fired up on the gloom of Tuesday morning, the relic's destination was acquired on the GPS. 
The view must have been much better in Smith's time
We made Kellie's Castle at about 1400H, and looking at its structure, I felt immediate awe and respect for this man who laboured for the ones he loved amidst much tragedy. The castle was beautiful, set atop a knoll which in its time would have overlooked the lush countryside towards the west and the limestone bluffs of the silver state towards its eastern gaze, with the spine of the Titiwangsa as its backdrop.
The stairs to the upper rooms. Lovely wooden balustrade
As I strode through the corridors and looked upon the lifeless dressing-rooms and dining halls, I mused at what so enrapt Mr Smith so as to make him choose this place as his abode. You would not have set off on such a task as our own Taj Mahal on a whimsy and then take off back to Blighty.
The girls in Helen's room
This would have been a magnificient home. The estate was well-thought, with linen rooms, wine cellars, a rooftop courtyard for parties and underground and underwater tunnels so that the family could get to the Hindu temple Kellie Smith had built across the river in gratitude to the Hindu deity whom he believed blessed him with his long awaited son Anthony.
The Corridor
It is heartbreaking to follow the tragic story of this obviously successful planter's endeavour to build his family home which ended in ruin and abandon till the government takeover to mint its tourist potential. I concur that perhaps it should be seen to its opulent completion, and thereby set the Smith family's souls to eternal rest instead of  sentencing them to ceaselessly wander the corridors till kingdom come.
Down to the dungeon!!!
The next item was to shoot directly for Sentosa Villa. The hours were advancing well past lunchtime, and the sandwiches and grapes we had stuffed our faces with over the past seven hours would not hold indefinitely. We smacked into the middle of Taiping and I felt quite lost. I couldn't orient myself to figure out where the old bus-stop was, and realising that decades had past since I was here, I abandoned all thought of smart-assing my way to the good eateries.
The walkway through the Villa
Instead, we chanced a loop around the town's perplexing streets and spied an empty parking lot which turned out be right where a good kopitiam stood. Here we stopped to the encounter of smalltown-friendly staff and food that did not disappoint the impression given by the blackened interior decor. I am sure the locals would shred my appraisal to bits, but to a visitor, Prima served decent dishes for not too much dosh. With our hunger sated, we returned to the car and resumed faith in the voice navigation of Papago's baffling directions to Sentosa Villa.
I surmise that  Hyundai's "Fluidic Sculpture" has a lineage: the senior Elantra spotted outside Prima
The light in the sky was fading with the last sighings of evening as we finally checked in at Sentosa Villa. The air was laden with the enticing aroma of durians and jackfruits hanging from the trees, with trapeze nets suspended under them to safeguard the unwary. I was grateful that the management had thought of this, as I see a descending durian as more of a spiked anvil in freefall.
Ducks amidst the pandan
I love the place. Reasonably priced and tucked well away from the centre of town, the hotel sat close to the foothill of Maxwell. From the room we could gaze up at the rainclouds cascading down the slopes, here, at the wettest region in the country. Or, we could look  down at the grass pathways and watch the ducks and geese and turkeys quack and honk and gobble in daily business fashion as they waddled to and fro in their quaint surroundings.
Absolutely darling
There stood an air of serenity here, in the Villa. All around the hotel grounds, a stream ran, babbling cheerfully, aerating the still pools where various kinds of fish were being bred. There were walkways to invigorate the guests, uphill, downhill and always lush and green. The poultry walked about with the kind of confidence that comes from knowing nobody would hurt them. The grounds belonged to them as much as they did to the proprietor. The room was gorgeous too, carefully conceived as the place you bathe and set your head down to sleep. No fridge, no in-room broadband, small television, lovely shower and minimalist cabinetry. I am definitely staying here if ever I am in town next.
That is a mighty hunk of beef, but he has such sweet grey eyes
So the agenda over the next day was to make it to the zoo and the Perak Museum. Both destinations were preloaded on the GPS, so finding our way was a no-brainer. I do not personally love zoos. The reason for it was revisited upon me as we sat lazily in the safari train, and later, as we walked for a bit to look at the big cats and the gaur.
Antonio's endowed cousins
I always feel sad for the beasts, not so much just for the captivity, but more for their sad state of health. The ostriches had poor plumage, looking like they had been sitting in boiling water all day, nigh feathered for Rowan Atkinson's Christmas roasting. The camels looked as if they were begging to get shot, their hides all mangy like threadbare carpets, crouched so despiritedly on the ground as to be unable to muster up an insulting spit shot at passers-by. But the big cats were fun to watch, reminding us of Antonio 7 hours drive away, and how he would be contending with mean-spirited monkeys and unspayed (read as territorial) cats swarming his driveway.
And yes, here is Lopez De Squirrel doing the commando descent
As the one who suggested this hare-brained scheme of a roadtrip to Taiping, the girls decided to reward me with an Indian breakfast as the thought of the long drive home on Thursday morning made me ravenous the minute I woke up. And yes, I did in fact feel rewarded because the food at Annapurna was OMG sumptuous. Yes, perhaps the locals would draw my blood for saying that, but Indian food is Indian food for me. I would gobble it down by nosing in a trough if that were the way it presented itsef to me.
Redefining Sugar Loaf Hill
My girls will testify to the truth in that statement.