Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 4 (Monday 5th May 2009) – Sunrise and seafaring legs

While the rest of the gang was still fast asleep, I got up. The sun was just rising. Wanting to be one of the few people on earth to first see the sun rise for a new day, I quickly wore my winter jacket. While I wore wool socks, I had no long-john underneath my track-bottom. I figured that it would only take a while and I would return to the room if it get too cold. I took the keys and left everyone.

I jogged to edge of water and sat on a spot at the dock. Imagine my disappointment when I realized I couldn’t see the sun rises from the horizon! There were masses of land at the horizon. Never the less I stayed to watch how the beautiful colours of the sky changed as the sun rose that morning. Surprisingly the wind-proof material of the track-bottom meant that the cloth trapped some air, enough to insulate some heat for my legs. Much later I discovered (after examining the map) that the dock wasn’t exactly by the sea. The water that was in front of me that day was actually a river mouth.

When I returned to the apartment, everyone was still asleep. It was some times later when finally everyone woke up. We prepared breakfast – hash brown, frankfurters, scrambled eggs and omelets. Once fueled, we packed all the leftovers. We cleaned all the glassware and cooking utensil; stored everything back in the kitchen and pack our bags. By default, the task of fitting everything into the small car fell on me. Everyone brought everything down to the car park while I figured out what fit where.

It was still early by the time every thing was packed and stored in the car. We decided to take a drive through town. There were some shops already opened that early morning. I bought a lip balm – my lips had begun to chap due to the cold temperature and wind. We also stopped by the beach and took photos.

We went back to the motel. Checked the apartment to make sure we didn’t leave anything, and went to the lobby to checkout. We also registered ourselves for the tour at the counter (registering, in this case, included signing a non-liability). I do not know if the rest of the gang read carefully what we signed that day. Under New Zealand law, you can’t sue any tour / adventure operators for any mishaps that might befall you. Basically we signed our lives away that day. After all the paper works and legality, we were given ‘tickets’. Interestingly, instead of being given one of those use-once-than-throw-paper-tabs as tickets, we each was given a small metal funnel as our tickets.

We went to the dock – the place that I had sat earlier that day, handed our ‘tickets’ and boarded the boat. Due to the force of nature, we were delayed. We had to wait for the tide to come. The water was too shallow for the boat to move safely. When the boat finally moved, we were excited. We sat outside the lower deck. There was a Caucasian couple there. We passed a landmark – statue of Wairaka - perched on top of a hill at the mouth of the river. Over the speaker, one of the crew explained the significance of the statue.

According to legends, the native people of Whakatane came from the sea in canoe called Mataatua. The women, children and the olds were left on the canoe while the men went inland in search of fresh water and food. In the absence of the men, the canoe began to drift into the open sea. Amidst the panic, the chief’s daughter, Wairaka, took charged. She yelled “Whakatane” which means “act like a man”. All women banded together and row the canoe to safety.

Anyway, not long after that, the boat crew handed out a piece of bread (with margarine spread on it) and a cup of pumpkin soup. We first ate the bread and the soup separately, but soon realized that they taste better together. In true Asian style, we dipped the bread into the soup before eating the bread. The Caucasian couple saw what we did. Before long, they too did the same!

Out in the open sea, the smooth boat ride quickly changed into a bumpy one. Before long, Ma Hen looked a little pale. We decided that she best went in, which thankfully she did. The crew took care of her. With the ride getting bumpier, and seawater splashing from the sides of the boat (the crew gave us each a towel), AD decided to join Ma Hen. Only D and I left, enjoying the winds and splashes on the open deck.

One and a half hour later, the boat anchored near an island, our destination: White Island. We were each given a hardhat and a facemask. D was the first to board a smaller rubber boat that took us to the old jetty on the island. On the island, first we were given a safety briefing and a little background of the island.

The safety briefing was simple:
1. Follow the guides.
2. Always wear the yellow hardhat.
3. In case of eruption (yes, we were on a volcanic island), do not run to the open beach hoping those on the boat will save you – they’ll long be gone by then. You are to take cover behind the biggest boulder or structure you can reach. Flying hot debris most likely to cause death than hot flowing lava. Now you see why I said we signed our lives away!
4. If, in the end we survive the eruption, calm down, avoid any flowing lava and wait for help.

Don’t worry, help will come, eventually. There are a bunch of volcanologists actively monitoring the island via life feed from video camera installed at the edges of cliffs above our heads. We were given sweets to help clear our throat if they became irritated by sulphurous air. After the safety briefing, we trekked the island making many stops, allowing the guide, Karen, to describe things.

There was too much ‘smoke’ that day for us to see the acidic lake that had formed in the one of craters. Long time ago, sulphur was mined of this island. One of the miner went missing, only his boots were found at the edge of the acidic lake, which sparked a speculation on whether he accidentally fell or committed suicide? The mystery was never solved, for no body was found – the acidic water corrodes every thing in a flash. The mine has long been closed. But the island remained the private property of the Buttle family.

While trekking back to the dock, it hit me (no, no flying debris hit me), the cliffs above our heads were actually the edge of the main / bigger crater. We were trekking inside the main crater! Anyway, we cleaned our shoes before boarding the boat home.

The four of us sat on the upper deck. The crew handed out our sandwich lunch. The sea was getting choppier as we made our way back to the main land. In the distance, I could see storm brewing. I had finished my food, was bouncing and holding tight to the railing, when Ma Hen felt queasy, again. I quickly got on my feet and got down the stairs.

The boat was bouncing when I lost my footing. I had my eyes focused on the wooden lower deck floor underneath me. In that split second, I knew, if I fall, I would hit headfirst and could probably break my neck. And in that split second, I managed to grab the hand railing on my right. So instead of falling head first, I managed to swing to the deck floor and landed on my feet. The crew must have seen me for by the time I landed, they were already at the door! Above the noises (from the waves splashing the boat and the sound of the engine), I managed to tell them about Ma Hen. They quickly went up and brought Ma Hen into the closure of the lower deck (where more people were feeling sick).

The boat continued to rock and bounce in the choppy water. It began to drizzle. The cloud became darker. I was glad we reach the mainland in more or less two hours later! On the dock, we dramatically and exaggeratedly hugged each other, saying we survived the volcanic island and the rough boat ride.

At the motel lobby, the staff was surprised to hear that I was okay with the rough ride (perhaps I looked the most skinny and frail in the tour group). I told them most who sat on the upper deck were okay. She said we all had strong stomach.

I took the wheel. It was about 5pm when we left Whakatane for the town of Rotorua. Before long, the night fell, and we were driving along dark winding road. I could smell anxiety in the air. I didn’t blame them. We were driving along a dark foreign road. Except for the “Expected Arrival Time” as calculated by the Samseng, we were clueless on how much longer the drive was. However, I was calm. I have done this – driving along a dark unfamiliar road – a number of times. At least this time I wasn’t alone.

Anyway, two hours later we safely arrived BK’s Rotorua Motor Lodge. We checked in and unloaded our bags into the one room apartment (two single beds in place of sofa in the living area). We needed additional ingredients for dinner. AD stayed behind to prepare food. The rest of us went in the car and Ma Hen drove to the mall across the road. After buying what we needed, Ma Hen and D, took the car for refueling. I, on the other hand, walked back to the motel.

Dinner consisted of spaghetti. We discussed our plans for tomorrow, then went to bed.

Distance traveled: approx. 100 km on sea & 107 km on land

Day 3 (Monday 4th May 2009) – Swayed and narrow road

No we didn’t swayed to the song of Michael Buble. However the car did swayed a little bit to the left, then a little bit to the right. That was how Ma Hen drove that day. AD and I bit our tongue and said nothing about it throughout the drive. To our consolation, Ma Hen did maintained the car in the correct driving lane. We passed the town of Paengaroa and reached the town for Whakatane safely about an hour later.

We followed the GPS direction and arrived at our first motel, White Island Rendezvous. Our room, nay, in a way, it was more like a two-room apartment. There were kitchen, complete with all the basic utensils and glassware; dining area; and living room equipped with television.

We saw pamphlet of Ohiwa Oyster Farm. A seafood-fanatic, I quickly agreed when the rest of the gang decided to eat out instead of cooking. Having shared our mutual concerns regarding Ma Hen driving, it was my turn to drive.

We punched in the address into the Samseng, and off we went. Before long, we were driving along a narrow winding road in the dark! I can see worries in the eyes of my traveling buddies. The route to my office involve narrow and winding roads too. Except for the a slightly higher slope gradient, the route was similar to the route to my office. So I had no problem maneuvering the car.

After making a wrong turn, we finally reach our destination. We thought we were going to eat oyster in a proper restaurant. The shop was a small wooden ‘hut’ that stood at the fringe of Ohope Beach seeming out in nowhere. There was no one else. I parked the car. We placed our order of mix deep-fried seafood – oyster, mussels, squids and fish – in batter served with fries and dips. There were benches overlooking the lagoon. We sat there to wait for our food.

While waiting for food, another car came. A middle-aged lady came out of the car, placed her order and went back into the car to wait. We on the other had, endured the cold weather and sat on the benches. To kill time, well, you guessed it, took loads of photos. Even when to food was finally ready, we took photos of the food before we sank our teeth into the hot fresh seafood. We soon finished the dips. Since we needed to pay for additional dips, we packed the remaining food and headed back to our motel.

We stopped at a designated scenic lookout. We wanted to take photo to capture the sunset and a mountain at the background. Unfortunately, the low-light situation confused the cameras’ sensors. When I finally got the manual setting on my camera right, it was already too dark to see the background. Unable to further stand the bone chilling-cold temperature, we quickly returned to the warmth of our apartment to finish our dinner – needing our chili sauce to accompany the dinner.

I slept as soon as I tucked myself in the warm bed.

Distance traveled: approx 92km

Day 3 (Monday 4th May 2009) – Behind the wheel

AD was the first to get behind the wheel. We drove out of the city. Before long, the landscape changed from concrete jungle (a sparse jungle, unlike dense KL), to wide open green grassland dotted with cows and sheep. The view was great but we were warned by Aunt not to simply stop along the road but to stop at designated parking areas.

About one and a half hour later (approximately 119km later), we reached the town of Paeroa. Having clocked hundreds, I was fully aware the toll long distance driving has to the driver’s body and mind. I suggested that we stop and take a break. Little did I know that this small cowboy town is the birthplace of L&P (Lemon & Paeroa), a soft drink. We did what every geeky tourist would do, took photos, and continued our journey. We passed more small towns - Te Aroha, Matamata, and Tauranga - along the way to the town Te Puke.

We stopped for our toilet break near a place called Jamieson Oval in Te Puke. Then we picked a spot under an olive tree to have our lunch. We spread our packed food on the picnic bench had a splendid picnic. D and I were packing things when two ladies came.

The older lady was most probably in her 40s, the younger lady might be in her early 20s. We began small talks. They have northern Malaysian accents. The younger lady has lighter skin and short cropped curly hair. Her eyes were sort of light hazel – matching her not-so-black hair. After a series of questions, D and I began to suspect something was amiss. First they said they were on holiday. Hearing that D was on working-holiday visa, they too claimed that they were on working-holiday visa. Well aware that there’s an age limit to such visa, we agreed (without having to say a word to each other) to keep our distance from them and leave as soon as our two other traveling buddies came.

Our next stop was Kiwi 360. There was a gift shop. Ma Hen went to enquire the guy behind the counter about the guided tour. The next one was at 2pm. Again, not a shopaholic by nature, I bluntly asked whether we could ‘linger’ there while waiting for the guided tour. Well, needless to say, I experienced the ‘blunt’ of the question for the rest of the road trip!

The first ‘lingering’ effect of the question was that the good looking guy from behind the counter, Sam, became our tour guide. We boarded a ‘tram’. Sam drove us around the kiwi fruit orchard and went on explaining things.

Te Puke, along with some other towns, are located in Bay of Plenty. As the name suggested, there are plenty of things grown in the area, thanks to its fertile volcanic soil as well as its temperate weather. Contrary to common believe, kiwi fruits are not native fruit of New Zealand. Kiwi fruits were brought in from China by enterprising New Zealand farmers some years ago. Each variety of the fruit was named after its cultivator.

We even made a stop at the kiwi fruit processing farm. The fruits were plucked before they are ripe, then packed into boxes before being shipped (yes the fruits travel via sea to save cost). By the time the fruits reached their destination, the fruits would be ripe. A big portion of the Kiwi Orchard and processing plant workers comes from Asian countries – Malaysia included. After a visit to the Kiwi Fruit processing plant, Sam ‘set us loose’ in the orchard. We did the only geeky tourist thing to do: took lots of photos. The tour ended soon after.

We continued our journey with Ma Hen behind the wheel. We headed to a town called Whakatane, about 67 km away.

Distance traveled: 260km

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 3 (Monday 4th May 2009) – The blues

Monday mornings are associated with Monday blues. But no blues for us that early Monday morning. We had no problem peeling ourselves from the comfort and warmth of our bed. We quickly took turns to shower and got ready. We would begin our road trip that day. Joining us on the road trip was D.

Aunt agreed to give us a lift to the car rental collection point. She said the area was near to her office. Unfortunately she was not really sure the exact location. No problem. I switched on the GPS and punched in the address: 150 Khyber Pass Road. No such address registered. Oddly, 149 Khyber Pass Road was! Thinking that it was most probably next to the 150, we agreed to set it as the destination point.

Off we went, driving and navigating the morning traffic as dictated by the GPS program. We did get to Khyber Pass Road. But to our horror, the building numbers were not in any logical sequence. 150 was not next to 149 Khyber Pass Road! So there we were, driving in the morning traffic, squinting our eyes to spot the building number.

We turned into a small lane, which according to the map would take us back to the main road. Unfortunately, almost at the end of the road, it was gated – the kind that use RF card. We had to turn back. While trying to get into the busy main road, we finally spotted the building! We had probably drove around the area for half an hour or so.

Ma Hen and AD had previously arranged for an auto-transmission 1.3 car. Even though I can’t really drive an auto-transmission, having two drivers compared to only one if we take the manual-transmission out weighted everything. For fuel efficiency, we decided on a 1.3. Imagine our surprise when they gave us a Daihatsu Sirion 1.3 – which looks everyway like Malaysian MyVi.

Aunt was skeptical. Could the little car fit the four of us, our bags and our rations? (Aunt and Gram found time over the weekend to prepare food for us to take along our road trip). Aunt wondered if we could fit our bags into the trunk. We tried to get a bigger 1.3 car. The car rental guy tried his best; unfortunately none were ready at that time.

We assured Aunt that we could fit every thing and everyone just fine. Having traveled together before, Ma Hen and AD knew I could fit seemingly ‘unfitable’ amount of things into a small bag. When all the bags fit just nicely in the trunk, and the food in the middle of the back seat, Aunt, and even the car rental guy, looked in amazement.

We hooked my Samseng on the dashboard. Bided adieu to Aunt, and we were off on our much anticipated road trip!

Distance traveled: 20km

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 2 (Sunday 3rd May 2009) – Countryside and beach

After a hearty breakfast, we – Ma Hen, AD, D, Aunt and I - traveled about 18 km out of the city to the village of Clevedon in the countryside. It was only 6.00 am but the sun was already up. And surprisingly so were the villagers. There were cars already parked along the country road.

Similar to Pasar Tani in Malaysia, the New Zealanders have farmers’ market. And this was our destination on that early morning, Clevedon Farmer’s Market. However, unlike Malaysian messy and otherwise boring Pasar Tani, the Clevedon Farmer’s Market was clean and had this festivity atmosphere.

There were people selling home made jams, mustard, muesli (mixture of cereals and dried fruits), cakes, buns, honey, freshly pluck fruits and vegetables – just to name a few. There were picnic tables, and blocks of hays under shady trees. People sat and enjoyed each other companies. Little kids ran around and played on the grass. There were even pony rides. If you ran out of cash but still want your kids to have fun, no problem, booths here accept credit cards!

We didn’t stay long, but long enough to stuff ourselves with freshly baked bread. AD needed new pair of shoes (the old ones conveniently gave up on Day 1). Aunt took us to a place called Botany. Contrary to its name, it was not a flora-fauna-kind of place. It was some sort of shopping centre. Having used to KL’s high-rise shopping malls, it took some time for me to realized that New Zealand malls, though not imposing-tall, was equally big, sprawling to form some sort of little town square. We went to Number1shoes and a few other shops there. I wanted to buy new boots for work, unfortunately none met my specific criteria.

Then we drove up north, making a stop at a shop selling the iconic sheepskin rug. Aunt suggested that we check out the price and compare with other places that we might pass during our coming road trip. Then we continued further up, to reach Mission Bay. Shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars lined the main road. It was a bustling business centre. Across the main road was a park over looking the sea. They were people basking in the sun and playing in the public ground.

To get a better vista, Aunt drove us up to a nearby hill, Micheal Joseph Memorial Park. There were people lounging on the freshly mowed grass. Initially Aunt just gave us five minutes to enjoy the view. When we passed the time limit, D came looking for us, only to join us doing geeky tourist stuff – taking loads of photos – and further prolonged Aunt waiting time! Realizing that we already spent about 20 minutes, we headed to the car.

We had barbecue dinner in another Singaporean's house.

Distance traveled: approx. 79km

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 1 (Saturday 2nd May 2009) – One Tree Hill

Yes, there is such place on earth. It’s not a Hollywood’s fictional place.

After a little rest, Aunt drove us - Ma Hen, AD, D and me - around town. Our first stop: Dress-Smart. Dress-Smart looks like any other shopping complexes. Main items sold are clothes of every type – work, play, casual, formal, cheap, and expensive. Not a shopaholic by nature (except when it comes to gadgets but that is for other entry), I was at ‘lost’. I ended up seating on a wooden bench opposite an ice-cream shop, eating an ice cream cone, while at the same time, eye-balling passer-bys.

First thing that caught my eyes were the fashion senses and the postures of the general public. While the Italians were impeccably (and formally) dressed, walked with their back straight and chin up (you get what I meant?), even when walking through street bazaars, the New Zealanders that passed by me that day were opposite the Italians. Most were casually dress, preferring t-shirts and jeans. Some were wearing working boots and some were only in their sandals (open toes sandals in the cold weather!). They seemed to slouch and drag their feet as they walked. They all appear very laid back as oppose to the up-tight Italians.

I finished my ice cream just as the rest of the gang emerged from the payment counters. Everyone seemed to have bought something. We all hopped into the car and continued with our short tour. Somewhere near Maungawhau Domain, we spotted sheeps.

Having seen Malaysian sheep during our previous trip to rural Malaysia (note to self: snap a picture of Malaysian sheep), Ma Hen was excited to see white fluffy New Zealand sheep. Aunt was kind enough to let us out of the car and brave the grass land filled with sheep poop just to get closer look / photos. AD on the other hand, was excited to see a cow, saying that the cows here have thicker and denser fur.

We then drove to One Tree Hill. There used to be a lone tree standing on top of the hill. The hill (and the then alive tree) has some sort of significant meaning to a certain Maori tribe. The tree was vandalized and cut down by a bunch of hooligans some where in year 2000. To mark where the tree used to be, an obelisk stood in its place.

We returned home, got a little rest before going out again. We were having dinner at Aunt & Uncle’s friends’ place. We met three more Singaporean families there – a pair of newly weds, a family of five, and a family of four. Having never heard Gram talking in her thick native dialect, the Singaporeans wondered what language she uses when talking to me. I understood her just fine and had no problem in conversing with her using the same dialect.

We had a wonderful dinner with agreeable company. We went home and to bed almost immediately.

Distance traveled: approx. 47km
(p.s.: Location for dinner is not disclosed and covered in map)

Day 1 (Saturday 2nd May 2009) - Rise and shine

It was it was 4.11am (Malaysian time). We were in the Australian airspace when the sun rose that day. The plane touched down at the tarmac around 11.45am (New Zealand time). I have to refer to my photos (which have Malaysian time embedded in the EXIF) to refresh my foggy mind. I have to remind myself that NZ time is ahead 5 hours of Malaysian time.

While waiting for our luggage to pop-out at the conveyer belt, I noticed an airport personnel walking with a cute little dog, sniffing people’s bags. The little dog was specially trained to sniff out plants and dairy products. NZ, being an agricultural country, imposes strict regulation on bringing plants and dairy products. Understandably, you don’t want to have some foreign microbes destroying the whole country’s produce. If you have something against dogs sniffing your bags, just don’t bring food in them. And make sure that the bags have not been used to carry food, especially fruits, for the past two or three days.

Ma Hen spotted Aunt upon exiting the arrival gate. Waiting with Aunt was her niece, D. We hauled our bags into Aunt’s car and headed home, making a brief stop at a meat shop to buy some Halal meat. At home, we met more family members – Gram, doing the laundry in the garage; and Uncle, surfing the internet at the dining table. We unloaded our bags and had lunch. For the life of me, I can’t remember what we ate, only that it was very filling and tasty (all home cooked meal in NZ was superb).

About 8703 km from our starting point: KLIA

Friday, December 11, 2009

To the land of Kiwis - A frantic start

The plan was to meet at the airport and check-in together, then dinner at the airport. Unfortunately, I got tied to work on the day that I was suppose to leave Malaysia.

It was already evening when I left the office. I did a few last minutes packing and hitched a ride to KLIA. In the car, I was told that for international flight, I should checked in and get through the security checks two hours before the flight. My vehicle-operator (a.k.a. the person who drove the car), frequent traveler himself(though for business), was well aware about it. So while speeding along the deserted road, he told me to try to check-in online. His concern was real, it was 7pm, and I was still in the car! My flight was scheduled on 9.10pm.

I took out my laptop, thanks to Celcom, got connected to internet (you'll be amazed at the coverage!). I logged on the MAS website. Yes, I could check-in online. But I wasn't sure about my luggage. I think I was suppose to print the slip and paste it on the luggage. Since I didn't have any printer in the car, I had to keep my finger crossed and hope for the best.

Thanks to the hair-rising-car-ride, I reached the airport in a jif. I practically jumped out of the car, grabbed my suitecase from the trunk, and ran to the counter. I thought I was late, but there were this other bunch of caucasians ladies running to the counter too! And they had less than an hour to check-in and get pass the security to catch their flight!

The efficient service at the check-in counter was great. Checking-in was a breeze. I, along with the Caucasians ladies, made a dash to the departure gate and the immigration check. At the immigration counter, I wished the ladies good luck and ran frantically to my boarding gate, while at the same time hearing the boarding call announced over the speaker.

I reached my boarding gate around 8pm. Panting for air, I looked around and saw none of my travelling buddies! A few minutes later the gate to the waiting area opened, and still no sign of my buddies. I was baffled. Earlier in the car, they told me via the telephone, that they'd checked in. I gave them a call. They were still having dinner. They didn't hear the announcement. Now it was their turn to rush to the boarding gate.

It was a great relief when I finally saw them. They packed a burger for my dinner. Unfortunately, the soft drink had to be tossed away at the security check. I gobbled down the burger (thankfully I didn't chocked on the food). We boarded the plane soon after I finished my food.

The flight was uneventful. All the facilities was great - in-flight entertainment, the food, and the juice. The guava juice was great. I asked for refill numerous time, so often that the flight attendant knew my face!

We touched down Auckland the following morning.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

To the land of Kiwis - The Preparation

The first item on my "to-do-list" was: GET WELL SOON.

I had poxes on my back, torso, arms and thighs. Gratefully, only few made they way to my face. With New Zealand trip on the horizon, I diligently took the doctor prescription. I also took heed of traditional remedies: drinking coconut water. Another traditional remedies was not to eat oily food and soy sauce to reduce scarring of the poxes. And, the hardest part, not scratching the itchy and burning poxes-covered-skin!

After two weeks of recuperating at home, I was well enough to go to the office. I hadn't fully recovered but I needed to return to work. Work had begun piling up. Still a little weak, the first week back in the office, I stayed indoors and minimized contacts with people. I had to cancel meetings and site visits, which didn't help in clearing my backlogs. Thankfully, at the end of week, to good doctor gave the long awaited all-cleared sign. By then, I only left with three weeks to clean my slate before flying off to the land of Kiwis.

In between work, thanks to the internet, Ma Hen, AD and I managed to coordinate our preparation. Ma Hen: Ground arrangements. AD: food and rations. Me: electronics and gadgets.

"Electronics and gadget? What's that?", you would ask. Among the items in our ground arrangements was a self-drive-road-trip. Even though Ma Hen managed to get directions for our destinations, safe to say, none of us are any good with directions. AD and I, both, have "direction-deficiency-syndrome". Just another way of saying we can't really differentiate the word "left or right". Ma Hen, well, from past experiences, is not the best navigator because she fall asleep in car rides. Normally for navigation, we have another travel companion which have never been mentioned in this entire blog, and shall remain so until required.

Anyway, realizing that we were a little handicapped in the navigational area, we decided to go hi-tech. My Samsung SGH-i780 is GPS enabled. So I was entrusted with the task of making navigation simpler. Thanks to the internet, I managed to get a free copy of New Zealand GPS map. Converting the map using Garmin Mapsource, I was able to load the map in Garmin XT installed in my Samseng (typo is intentional ;) ). For those intending to do this at home, please backup the original mapfile in your mobile phone to avoid future heartache in case things go wrong.

Other than the GPS, I also brought along my laptop. We all were using digital camera. Based on my Italy trip, digital camera tend to make us snapped more photos. Laptop is required just in case we ran out of storage space in our tiny memory cards. Other than laptop, I had chargers - for laptops, handphone, and dSLR. I also had car chargers for the Samseng, and a power inverter, just in case we need power point in the car. Photographics equipement packed in my bag included: 3 lens (the kit, a zoom, a fisheye), dSLR, flashgun, 2 memory cards and a tripod. Suffice to say, we were high-tech ready for the trip.

Then finally, the day came. The night of 1st May 2009, we met at the airport and began our journey to the land of Kiwis!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Material World

No, material world got nothing to do with New Zealand trip, though some material were needed for the trip. Will post another entry on the subject once I complete it.

I've this habit of dressing down, and in doing so, appearing less educated than I actually am. Most of the time it was just because I don't like to dress up. Some of the time, it was intentional. Just to give people some sort of false impression to discover how people would react. Remember how surprised the headmistress from Jakarta to hear me speaking English fluently? And then again, an Australian in one flight home?

Yesterday was different. I've only met the headmistress and the Australian once, this workshop that I went however, is where I've been sending my cheap-Malaysian-made-car for a few years now. All these while wearing slippers; track bottoms and t-shirts, or t-shirts and jeans.

It wasn't my intention to see how they react. They've always been polite. They have been calling me "Adik" - a common term for Malaysian to refer someone younger then themselves. Due to my skinny frame, I often appear younger that my actual age.

That morning, just the same as previously, the lady behind the counter called me "Adik". I handed my keys. Then I called a colleague, asking if there was anyone available to pick me from the workshop.

I couldn't wait for the car. I had an early meeting. Fifteen minutes or so, a colleague came, driving the unmistakeable company's 4WD. I saw it from the waiting area, through the glass wall. I quickly exited the glass door and walked to the car.

Later that evening, when I came to collect my car, I noticed the lady was being a little 'formal'. She dropped "Adik" and addressed my more formally. I continued with my usual easy and laid-back ways but at the same time wondered about the sudden change.

It was during the drive home that I realized what had happened. That morning, I went to the workshop wearing full suit, ready for meeting. Except for my bright orange backpack, I might have had a 'corporate look' that morning. Then, the phone call I made, requesting someone to pick me up. And some one did came, with the company car.

All that transpired that morning must have crushed any previous notions she had about me!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

To the land of Kiwis - The Beginning

Before all is lost in my foggy mind, here goes:

It all began some time last year with an old friend from college announcing that she was getting married. In New Zealand! She mooted the idea of vacationing to New Zealand and while we were there, find time to attend her wedding.

When fellow traveler, Ma Hen, took up the suggestion seriously, my heart jumped. Unlike friends who dream of going to US or UK, I’ve always wanted to step foot on NZ. It must have been the image from childhood of a certain brand of milk that has picture of cows grazing on an open land on its container.

And so, we began to make arrangements. This time, blissfully married Ah Gang wasn’t part of “we”. Another avid travel companion joining us shall be known as AD. The three of us had traveled together previously. We were college mates. And we know each other long enough to know and tolerate each others’ quirks.

We contemplated on when and where to buy the flight ticket. Ma Hen was against the adventurous idea of taking a certain low budget flight to Australia and then a connecting flight to New Zealand. Thus it would be one of those national airlines. After taking into consideration of transit flight, and airfare, MAS got our vote.

Next was when to buy the air ticket. It was either during the MAS fair or the MATTA fair. Based on past experiences – MAS fair have cheaper tickets. We had to wait for the wedding date to be confirmed. If the MAS fair was still on, we would buy tickets during the MAS fair.

Thanks to cyberspace, we got the wedding date as immediate as she fixed it. The race is on. We were on the lookout for adverts in newspaper almost every day. Just to make sure we didn’t miss the short window of MAS fair.

Then on 10th February 2009, instead of meeting and going together to the ticketing counter, we went online and met in a private chat room. We logged on to MAS website, searched for suitable date and booked the flight tickets simultaneously. Thanks to a rectangle plastic card, we successfully purchased our flight tickets online.

Only thing left in the travel checklist was the ground arrangements. Ma Han had already established contacts with family members residing in NZ. Not wanting to trouble them much, we knew we should arrange for tours and sightseeing ourselves. The plan was to hunt for best deals during the MATTA fair together.

However, it was not meant to be. The Sunday that we were suppose to meet, I was diagnosed with chicken pox! Needless to say, Ma Hen and AD went hunting without me.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Nur Kasih

"Nur Kasih" roughly translated as "Glow of Love". For those who are not in Malaysia, it is the drama series that had successfully garnered 3 million viewers (so reported by local newspaper). There are a lot of rave reviews about the drama.

I first caught a glimpse of the drama while attending a function at a cousin’s house. They had the television on but the volume down. I was too far to hear any thing. The cinematography (is it the right term for television drama?) caught my attention. The bits and pieces I saw on that night, made me curious. I wanted to see more.

I think first episode that I watched on television was episode 4. I realized why it caught my eyes. The director made full use of basics photography principles. Rule of third, leading lines, natural framing, and contrasting colours – just to name a few. The location, the background, the lightings, every thing was beautifully composed. At first I only watch the drama because of the beautiful cinematography.

A couple episodes later, I realized that the story line was interesting too. Fully aware I couldn’t commit myself every week, I began to search for the episodes online. At first I could watch them in Youtube via my mobile phone. I was dismayed to find that a certain party had requested the ‘poster’ (is there such word?) to bring down the content from Youtube. I was forced to watch it from the official television website which couldn’t load properly in the mobile phone.

Already hooked on the drama series, I searched high and low for alternatives. I landed on a website. Though the website allows downloading of low resolution copy of the drama, initially I couldn’t download it or view it on my mobile phone. After further online search, I finally found a nifty browser “Skyfire” that enables streaming of the drama. And so, thanks to technology, I was able to watch it when I want, where I want!

Anyway, since there are already a lot of rave reviews about the drama series, there are a few things that need to be improved. In the first episode, the village location was written as Kuala Kangsar, Perak. However, throughout all the episodes, you will see indications that the village is in Selangor (spot “Selangor” behind Adam while he use the public phone in front of his school in episode 4). In other episodes spot the Selangor State flag flying at the village mosque.

The most disturbing and confusing scenes would be the railway station scenes. Most Malaysians would know that they were saying goodbyes at Old KL railway station. A cousin who watch the drama only occasionally, asked, where are they going, they are already in KL!

I understand the director intention to capitalize ‘characteristic’ of the Old KL railway station, but he could have used other station. Ipoh railway station is a good candidate, though I think after the recent upgrading, it lost some of its ‘rustic’ character. Alternatively, he could use one of the small railway stations that still have the ‘small-rural-station’ feel to it. Taiping railway station is one example.

There are other less noticeable and less disturbing ‘bloopers’. Except for the railway station scenes, I could overlook everything else to say this a well crafted drama series!