Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Balai Seni Lukis Negara (National Art Gallery)

Over the weekend, I saw an interview on television. It was about some art exhibition currently held in Balai Seni Lukis Negara till 31st of July. The central theme is Hutan Belum (Belum Forest Reserve).

Yesterday, I decided to check the exhibition out. But first I need to find this Balai Seni Lukis Negara. The first building I went to was the old building located opposite Mahkamah Syariah (Malaysian Islamic Court). The old building no longer housed Balai Seni and was left in ruined. It sadden me that such historical building was left to rot and be 'eaten' by weeds.

Then I drove around to find tourist police. I saw the sign board to the booth and eventually found the booth. Unfortunately, no tourist police could be seen. A very misleading signboard and booth. After a long round-around, imagine me relief when I saw another booth. But this time it was the police (the normal police booth).

I stopped my car and got out to ask for direction. My relief was short lived when the polite man in blue uniform gave me this blank look. He has no idea where the building is. From the look in his face, I think he has never even heard of Balai Seni Lukis Negara.

Later that day, on my way back from my office, lo and behold, there's the new building. I had passed is almost everyday. It is located right next to Istana Budaya by the busy Jalan Tun Razak.

This morning, I stopped by the Balai Seni Lukis Negara. I tought it was easy to find. So near yet so far. The enterance was not the same as the enterance to Istana Budaya. While there were adequate direction signs to Istana Buday, signs to Balai Seni Lukis was almost none. In fact, other that the one at the building itself, I couldn't see any other signboards. Instinctively, I turned into a small road (Jalan Temerloh) right after the spanking new building. True enough, there was the empty parking lot on my left.

The art collection was great. Unfortunately the arrangement was not really good. I have not been to many art gallery, but somehow the one in KLCC looks better. Maybe because the one in KLCC is small and the exhibition goes in somewhat a 'flow' from entrance to exit. The National Art Gallery on the other hand have multiple exhibition hall at each level. Other than that, I had expected more artworks to be displayed considering that it is a National Art Gallery.

I'm not sure if National Art Gallery is included in your typical travel brochures. But do check it out if you are an art lover. You could take a taxi from KLCC. If you are feeling adventurous, take LRT and stop at Titiwangsa. From there you can take a bus (if I'm not mistaken number 103). Be ready to spot Istana Budaya and press the bell to stop the bus near the National Art Gallery. Chances are, the bus drivers wouldn't know where it is.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Going Up North

Due to some work commitment, I had to make a trip up north. After consulting other colleagues, we agreed to stay in Seberang Jaya, Pulau Pinang. Seberang Jaya is on the mainland. We also decided to car-pool. The other colleagues are a pregnant lady and a friend who don’t know how to use manual transmission (or what American call shift stick). That leaves me as the designated driver for our business trip.

Day 1 (17th July 2006)

We left KL around 7.30 am. After around thirty minutes blazing through the usual morning rush, we reached Sungai Buluh R&R (Rest & Restaurant). I ate the food that I had packed earlier that morning. We continued our drive soon after. With only one or two toilet-stops, we reached our hotel around 12pm. About three and a half hour drive. It was quite amazing feat, since we mostly drove within the speed limit.

We checked into our rooms. While unpacking, we were surprised by the news we saw on the television. There would be a press conference regarding Siti Nurhaliza’s upcoming wedding. She’s one of the top single (as in not married) singer in Malaysia. Since our work would start at 2pm, we decided to wait for the announcement. We only wanted to know who is her future groom. We were partially disappointed when her father announce that it is Datuk K. Not because we have any feeling for Siti. Disappointed because she have become like other typical famous artists who married older VIPs. After that, we left for our appointment.

That night, we went to Pulau Pinang – The Pearl of The Orient. We took the ferry. It was my first time driving a car onto the ferry. I’ve been on a ferry to Penang a couple of years back. It was on the same day the old bus station was burned down. But it was on foot. Very much like a backpacker. Back then it only cost a few cents. The fare for a car is RM7.70. Plus point in taking the ferry: I got to enjoy the scenic view.

We reached the island half an hour later. With the guide from our mutual friend via the phone, we reached Padang Kota Lama. Along the way we passed some old buildings and if I’m not mistaken, Port Swattenham. We had our dinner at the food court in Padang Kota Lama. The food seller there were very persuasive and competitive. They ‘swarmed’ you like bees recommending this and that. They would not leave until you place your order. The food were good and cheap by KL standard.

We left Penang at 10.15pm on the ferry.

Day 2 (or rather night 2)

Daytime was occupied with work.

On the second night, we went to Penang Island via the bridge. Tol for the bridge is RM7.00. It is the longest bridge in South East Asia. It was the first time I drove on it. Somehow it felt very narrow. Except for the middle section of the bridge where it was three-lane, the rest of the bridge is two-lane. Not too long ago, the government wanted to widen the bridge to cope with the growing traffic volume. There was a report in local daily saying that the government could not proceed because the bridge’s blueprint was missing. How could such important document went missing? I have no recollection of any report of it being found again.

A friend of ours took us to a place called Teluk Tempoyak for seafood. The place was very secluded. I don’t think any first timer could find the place on their own. The drive took us through industrial area somewhere in Bayan Baru. Then we came to some sort of housing area before ascending through a narrow and winding road. At some stretch, only one car could pass through. But the long drive was well worth it. The place was right by the sea. The food was splendid. Locals would call it ‘ikan bakar’ (grilled fished cooked in spicy sauce)

Day 3 (Night 3)

I was feeling a bit under the weather. Could be due to the weather. Could also be due to the spicy food that I’ve been eating for the pass few days. We went to eat at a hawker stall nearby. I had fried ‘kuey tiaw kerang’ (flat-rice-noodle fried with cockles). The food was okay, not as great as the previous day – perhaps because I was not feeling well.

Day 4 (20th July 2006)

We headed to KL around 3.00pm after. Unlike the drive up north, the drive down south seemed to go forever. Possibly because of the numerous lane-closure. They (PLUS) are upgrading the highway. We reached KL around 9.00pm.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Beijing: Trip Recaps

1. Celcom don't have GPRS partner in Beijing. International roaming (phone calls & SMS) works just fine for post paid. (Yours truly is waiting anxiously for the bill)

2. Shopping in Beijing is madness (especially for a non-shopaholics like yours truly).

3. Bargaining during shopping is a MUST. You can also bargain at department store. No bargaining at places that use bar code scanner (Carrefour, & 7-eleven-like-shops).

4. With proper bargaining skill, patient, and courage opening price (as high as RMB1000) could go very low (as low as RMB100).

5. Be ready to be 'physically manhandled' by the persistant & persuasive shop assistants.

6. Main streets in Beijing are generally clean. However, avoid any water puddle, whenever possible, at any cost.

7. When buying things from street peddlers, be carefull of counterfeit money.

8. Taking taxis in Beijing is generally safe. They have receipt which indicate where and when you boarded the taxi, as well as where and when you reach your destination.

9. Definitely get your destination name written in chinese characters (unless you can speak fluent mandarin and can pronounce all the names properly).

10. Bl**dy-Geeky-Touristy Things to do:
* Climb Great Wall of China - done
* Visit Tianenmen Square - done
* Visit Forbidden City - done
* See acrobats show - done

11. Things to spot:
* People reading newspapers pasted on roadside-noticeboard
* Kids (and possibly adults) wearing 'backside-exposing-pants'
* People exercising & dancing in the park
* People reading newspaper while paddling their bicycle.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Day 6 (23rd June 2006)

7.30am – We checked out. I began to have a bit of stomach upset – enough to set the alarm in my travel companion, Gang. Our guide took us for one last shopping trip. Russian Market. No idea why it is called Russian Market. We also stopped at a place call Yueshow. Both were located within areas frequent by foreigners (as in white people). By 11.00am, we left for lunch.

12.00pm – Lunch. It was splendid. As the rest of the group said, the final lunch pretty much erase all bad memory of food (especially breakfast) during the tour.

2.15pm – We reached the airport. We bid adieu to Fariz and Jiang. We checked in our luggage.

4.35pm – We boarded the plane, flight MH 379. Again, after a series of seat swapping, we managed to sit next to each other. This time, Gang was on my left, and Ma Hen on my right. Bye-bye Beijing.

10.50pm – Touch down. After alarming long wait for Ma Hen luggage, we finally got all luggages. We headed to the arrival hall and then went our separate ways.
Day 5 (22nd June 2006)

Our fifth day was our ‘free’ day. Free in the sense that there’s no schedule and arranged tour for us. Definitely not free in the sense that no money required.

8.00am – We crossed the road in front of the hotel. After a few confusing moment, we managed to find a taxi stand. We got on a taxi. And I handed the map on which our guide wrote the Chinese name for the shopping complexes. My travelling companions were all for shopping.

Me, I drank all the sight along the way. People on bicycles on their way to work. I noticed school kids in t-shirts. People bringing vegetable to restaurants. Unfortunately I wasn’t seated next to the window and my digital camera was not fast enough to capture all the sights. Gang sat on my right. She opened the map and trace our route on the map. Ma Hen on the right fell asleep at some point of the ride.

9.00am – After getting caught in the morning rush, we reached our destination at the cost of RMB46.00. Not really. Our guide had written the Chinese name in reverse order. Taking our bearing along the main road, we walked to the right building. It was actually within walking distance. Since it was still early, we sat for a while and took another bearing. We decided to walk to the buildings across the road. We discovered a complex selling genuine electronics gadgets. It was very similar Low Yat Plaza in KL. I don’t know if my travelling companion noticed, but there was this solar powered charger. I think it was a telephone charger.

We crossed the road and went into another complex. This complex also sell genuine electronics gadgets. But unlike the first complex, this one was less ‘hyped’.

Then we went to the first shopping complex. We had a lunch consisting bread and ‘serunding’ (brought from Malaysia). After the replenishing, we continued to the second shopping complex for more shopping. By three o’clock, we were ready to head back to the hotel. Gang took out her map and we figured out that the best place to get a taxi would probably near the first shopping complex.

We got into a taxi. I took out our hotel card and handed to the driver. We made our way ‘home’. Both of my travel companions slept through out the drive back. I enjoyed the sights. Again, I was sandwiched by my two sleeping companions and could not take any photographs.

4.00pm – We reached our hotel. Feeling a bit tired, we decided to take a short nap before heading to Carrefour. The short nap turned into a deep sleep. By the time we woke up, it was already passed six o’clock in the evening. We decided to have dinner before heading to Carrefour. Dinner consisted of instant noodles. Fully aware that my stomach don’t really tolerate instant noodles, I ate it anyway.

7.30pm – We left the hotel on foot. We bumped into Dzul a few metres from our hotel door. He said Carrefour was just around the block. But the walk ‘around the block’ seems to be endless. It was around 8.30pm when we finally reached Carrefour.

Main item on the shopping list was drinking water and something to munch. I found two types of pillow on sale. One stuffed with buckwheat. Another was stuffed with bamboo. I bought both types. Good thing I brought my daypack with me. We loaded the daypack with the water bottles. Gang carried the daypack. Ma Hen carried the food. I carried the two pillows. The buckwheat pillow was heavier than the bamboo pillow.

Along the way, there were street vendors selling all kinds of things. Leather wallets. Shoes. Steamboats. There were even flowers. The flower buds were perfect – not torn – and fresh. If it wasn’t because of the quarantine law regarding plants and animals, I might have bought the flower.

10.00pm – We reached our hotel. Later we discovered from other group member that the taxi ride would have cost us RMB5. We packed our luggage. Earlier Dzul mentioned that we would be checking out around 7.45am.