Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Amphibians on display at Zoo Negara

ZOO Negara has renewed its study on frogs to educate the public on the importance of their preservation.

The declining population, said zoologist Dr Mohamad Ngah, is something that everyone should be concerned about.

“Frogs are the frontline indicators of the environmental conditions because they breathe through their skin. If the environment is not suitable for them, then it will not be suitable for us too,” he said.

Serious studies: Dr Mohamed Reza examining a toad closely.

The scientist also cited examples of rising dengue cases being linked to the depletion of the frog population.

“Some species of frogs feed on mosquitoes but because their numbers have decreased due to poaching, habitat destruction and pollution; the pests have multiplied, “ he pointed out.

Another cause for concern is the baffling destruction of frog species caused by the onset of chytridiomycosis, a fungi specie thought to only feed on dead frogs.

However, in 2000, scientists discovered that the fungus had mutated into feeding on the skin of living amphibians.

According to Dr. Mohamad, chytridiomycosis caused 50% of frogs to go extinct worldwide and the fastest rate of destruction of a species documented.

The current hot spot for chytridiomycosis is Japan where the entire frog population of one of its islands has been completely wiped out. It is not known if the disease had reached Malaysian shores .

Diverse creatures: Some(above and below right) of the 18 species of frogs currently at Zoo Negara .

Dr Mohamed said the purpose of the current frog programme at Zoo Negara is to identify the different species of local frogs, including their life cycle and how to breed them.

On the successful completion of this phase, the veterinarians will then work on researching the endangered species, induce them to mate within their microclimates and hopefully release their young back into the ecosystem.

“In South East Asia, Zoo Negara is the first to embark on such a programme.

“Our goal is to attain knowledge first and the time will come when we will be up to a level where in the case of an outbreak (of frog annihilating diseases), we will be ready with a rapid response team,” he said.

In addition to knowing the frog species, the programme is also aimed to educate the public about the effects of pollution.

“I hope this will bring about an awareness for the public to stop throwing rubbish into the streams,” he concluded.

The frog project is currently under the care of veterinarian Dr Mohamed Reza Tarmizi, 26. There are 18 species of frogs presently residing in Zoo Negara.

In Malaysia, there are 200 known species of amphibians including frogs, toads and caecilians.

The exhibits will be on display during Zoo Negara’s opening hours.

Originally published in The Star on Thursday February 21, 2008

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Athletic moves in pole position

THE Viva Vertical Pole Stars Grand Finals which was held at the Saigon Bar in Bangsar recently saw 10 contestants showing off their prowess at pole dancing.

Selection for the competition began in May with 50 hopefuls showing off their moves via a URL link to their performances on YouTube at the Viva Vertical website. The contest was divided into two categories, namely Exotic Pole, which stresses on artistic presentation, and Fit Pole, which emphasises technical execution.

In a showcase that comprised physical strength, grace and artistic flair, most of the contestants would begin their routine nervously to end up with a spirited finish, thanks to the encouragement of the audience.

Big supporter: Natesa striking a pose with husband Mior Arif who took care of nine-month-old Noah throughout the night.

In the run-up to the contest, the contestants also kept training diaries that were posted along with updates on their personal blogs, which were also featured in the Viva Vertical website.

Through their jottings, readers were offered glimpses of how the contestants had coped with painful sprains, aching muscles and sweaty palms while preparing for the competition. A graphic detail of the extensive bruising sustained in pole dancing was also recorded in one blog entry belonging to Trinity, which is the stage name of Kerry-Ann Khoo.

Heard cheering the loudest that night was Vincent Kong, a 66-year-old retired renovation and construction consultant who had come to see his daughter, Michelle, 30, in her first pole dance competition.

Fitness queen: Curtney Wee was voted winner of the Fit Pole category.

“I love art and I see pole dancing as a form of acrobatics. I am proud that Michelle has been so courageous tonight,” the doting dad said.

The night also belonged to 29-year-old Natesa Ahmad Shukri as she thanked her husband for being very supportive of her pole dancing venture. Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “I HEART LOLITA” (Natesa’s stage name), Mior Arif Iskandar, 33, came with their nine-month-old son, Noah, and 15 close friends in tow to cheer for Natesa.

The only male contestant that night, Jon Ti, 19, who won second place in the Fit Pole category also wowed the crowd with his nimble moves. Ti, who took up pole dancing in July last year, admitted that his friends had reacted with raised eyebrows initially but they had a change of perspective after watching him train.

Big supporter: Natesa striking a pose with husband Mior Arif who took care of nine-month-old Noah throughout the night.

The night also produced an unexpected star in Kerry-Ann Khoo, 33, who won in the Exotic Pole category. Khoo, who was also the oldest contestant and a professional dancer, revealed that she has never taken pole dancing lessons in her life. In preparing for this competition, she had learned the technical aspects by observation and experimentation.

And if one thinks pole dancing is only confined to the petite, Sunita Chui, 19, would proudly show off that even girls with fuller curves can pole. The 169cm and 75kg PR student revealed that being a ‘big girl’ has not stopped her from taking up ballet, traditional and modern dance in her younger years.

Chiu, who took up pole dancing two months ago, opined that size and height should be no barrier to what one wants to pursue.

“Believe in yourself, do what you feel like doing and don’t worry about what people have to say,” said Chiu, who opined that preparing for the competition has worked to enhance her self confidence and personal fitness.

For more information, visit the Viva Vertical website at www.vivavertical.com or call 016-2096997

Monday, June 15, 2009

Up in the air

In high glee: Balloon artist Tan Kok Soong and his four-year-old son, Yan Ze.

Bubbles of positive energy – that’s how Tan Kok Soong describes a balloon. This 34-year-old father of two would know best as he has been in the business for 11 years. Tan Kok Soong is a certified balloon artist whose balloon projects have earned him a place in The Malaysia Book of Records twice – the first entry was in 2004 for the tallest balloon Christmas tree and the second in 2007, for the biggest heart made of balloons. Last year, Tan also managed to clinch third place in a balloon dress competition in Singapore.

Balloons, agreed Tan, have been an important aspect of his life, revealing that he had even used his balloon sculpting skills to twist little teddies so that he could impress his wife, Lip Wai Seong, 30, while they were courting.

Evergreen: Balloon bouquets for all occasions.

In retrospect, Tan surmised that his obsession with orbs of colourful floating latex might have something to do with a childhood which had been largely confined to his father’s mini-market which operated from amidst the green pomelo orchards of Tambun in Ipoh.

Not surprisingly, when the former student of Seri Putera, Fair Park, left school, he would opt for a career with promises of a cheerier atmosphere.

“My first job involved distributing party packs to the cake shops. Now, you ask me why I have chosen to venture into party packs and balloons? Well, in life, it is essential to be happy and to make people happy, isn’t it?” reasoned Tan.

But what had sparked off the idea of starting a business in balloons was when Tan saw it being used at a product launch.

“To me, it was a fresh idea and that got my interest,” said Tan.

So, with a capital of RM9,000, Tan set out to do his market research and attended workshops in Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand. The exposure impressed upon Tan that anything is possible when it comes to working with balloons. Arches, bouquets, animals, dresses, the only limit was one’s imagination. By then, Tan had made up his mind as to what his life’s vocation will be.

Whimsical pair: Bumble bees with a combination of twisted and inflated balloons.

“There was no doubt in my mind that I would succeed as balloons have never failed to bring on the smiles. Just look at how a child reacts when you give him a balloon. Moreover, though the usage of balloons in celebrations and events were not popular 10 years ago on the local front, it was widely used in overseas. Knowing that I was not the only one in the world with such a vision sort of gave me the confidence. At that time, I saw it as my place to expose the idea to my fellow countrymen,” said Tan.

To date, Tan can still remember his first balloon order which came in 1998. It was for a wedding and Tan cannot forget this customer as he was named after a luxury car.

“My first customer was a Mr Daimler Tan (no relation) and I tell you, it was an anxious time for me because I really, really wanted to give a good impression. Luckily, everything went well and till today Daimler and I are friends. It was from him that I got many referrals such as orders for balloon arches for company openings and stage decorations for functions,” said Tan.

Today, Tan’s team is able to handle big orders up to 40,000 balloons. He receives such orders annually for big scale events like the Merdeka celebrations.

It is no joke to inflate 40,000 balloons overnight. There is no way that such an operation can be done earlier as the helium will leak and cause the balloons to flop so we have no choice but to burn the midnight oil,” he said.

And in such stressful times, the most infuriating thing for Tan will be to have his balloons bursting one after another while they are being inflated, as in the case of balloons which are inferior in quality.

In answer to conservative quarters that flowers, instead of balloons, would make a better choice of decoration, Tan would agree that the beauty of a flower is incomparable to the man-made aesthetics of a latex balloon, in spite of the bewildering array of shapes, sizes and colours available.

But a balloon, he pointed out, is a definite point scorer when it comes to cost conservation. Moreover, an inflated balloon has the ability to fill up a bigger area. If the case of flowers, more will have to be utilised to fill up an area occupied by a single balloon.

“A budget of slightly over RM1,000 will afford a wedding venue with a backdrop, walkway accents and an entrance arch,” guaranteed Tan.

Meanwhile this balloon artist reckons that the hypnotic hiss of the mechanical pumps have imparted him with a philosophical outlook.

“I sometimes feel that one reason why people appreciate balloons is because at the back of their minds, they know that their beauty is only temporary. This has impressed upon me that while we are alive, it is important to be happy because life is short,” concluded Tan.

Beauty Balloons is located at No.1 & 1A, Jalan Medan Ipoh 7, Bandar Baru Medan, 31400 Ipoh, Perak (Tel: 05-545 8899 / website at www.beautyballoon.com.my).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lunch in Masjid Tanah With Julie's Top Guys.

Halfway through the factory tour of Julie's Biscuits, Ng Teng Chai, the general manager and his right-hand man, Lee Boon Seng, suggested we lunch at this coffee shop called Jin Lian in Masjid Tanah's Jalan Besar.

The shop, according to Ng had not changed in the past 40 years. The ladyboss, Kee Yock Wa, revealed that it was opened during her grandfather's time 70 years ago.

For drink, we had tea served in dainty Chinese tea cups. It is uncertain what blend they had served as everyone was too engrossed in discussing the current economy of Masjid Tanah. The building of the North South highway was lauded as the best move of all time. Thanks to it, transportation logistics meant that factories could move their goods to all major locations with
ease. And with the onset of traffic, towns like Masjid Tanah had managed to prosper.

If the chicken rendang had not arrived and distracted everyone, the group could have gone on all afternoon. Of course this Nyonya-like dish was well received. Tender pieces of chicken was done
to perfection in a rich sauce of blended chillies, onions, lemongrass and prawn paste.

We also enjoyed a 'pai kwat wong' which is pork ribs lathered in a thick, sweet, piquaint sauce. The meat was very well done with an appetising barbecued aroma.

And the steamed fish head was just heavenly. It was very mindful of the cook to scatter the fried onions and freshly chopped chives and chillies on top the fish for it gave off such an appetising smell.

To complete this very traditional Chinese lunch, we also an egg foo yong and a plate of mustard greens.

Jin Liang is located in Jalan Besar, Masjid Tanah, Melaka. Call them at 06-3845160.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hill Stories

The charm of Fraser’s Hill lies in its tranquil setting and friendly people. Accessible only through a 9km narrow, windy road which curves around a lush, green virgin forest, the trip is a worthwhile one for the weary urban soul.

Here are some questions for the urban traveller.

How many times can you go for one of those long, pleasant walks in the cool mountain air along flower dotted paths?

For how long will you be awed by the breathtaking scenery of the rolling Titiwangsa Range at 1260 metres above sea level with the mist falling over the lush green jungles like veils in the soft morning light?

How many times are you going to traverse the nature trails (there are eight of them in total) where the keen eye may come across some of the world’s rarest species of birds?

And how long will it be before you get tired of the cool sereneness of Fraser’s Hill after the wearying battle of an unrelenting heat wave in a busy smog filled city?

The answer to all of the above may well be never!

It is in such relative peace, that the holiday maker may find himself with an endless list of activities on a hill that has garnered a reputation for being a tranquil mountain.

You can go for boat rides at Allan’s Water (a tranquil lake near a nursery) horse riding and archery at The Paddock which overlooks the vast expanse of the Fraser’s Hill Golf Club, and learn from Nathan Sevalinggam, a mini market owner, how to fuel your car with a cone and funnel after buying petrol from his sundry shop (there’s no petrol kiosk in Fraser’s Hill) . For a bit of adventure, there is a waterfall you can go to after a quick bite at the stalls in Jalan Lady Maxwell.

In addition, let’s not forget the stories. Right in the center of town, there is a tale of Louis James Fraser, a tin prospector, whom the hill was named after. Fraser had used the area as a trading post in the 1890s and rumour has it that he also ran a gambling and opium den too. Mysteriously, Fraser was last seen hauling his mules loaded with tin ore and heading for the mountains some time in the late 1890s and was never seen again.

If you are taking a trek up Hemmant’s trail, you will also see the ruins of two concrete structures, which according to Jason Netto, the resident manager of Fraser’s Pine Resort, were believed to be military bunkers built during the Japanese occupation. He hinted that in addition to storing ammunition, it may have also be used as a hiding place to hoard stolen gold.

Another point of interest is Bishop Trail where four boys got lost in 2005 and survived for four days in the jungle without food. Netto, who had taken an active part in the search, revealed that he had sought the help of a tuk batin (which means shaman) in the rescue efforts.

“He told me that the children were safe but they were trapped by jungle spirits who had taken a liking to the youngest boy,” revealed Netto.

Netto’s colourful story would include the sacrifice of a white chicken whom he had gone to great lengths to obtain and of how three men would trek 20 km into the heart of the jungle to find the four boys by a stream.

“The tuk batin told me how he cried tears of joy when the youngest boy ran up to him and had hugged him out of sheer relief that all were safe and sound,” recalled Netto who was briefing the Sultan of Pahang at the town’s police station when the news reached him.

The moral of the above story, said Netto, is that one must remember to ask the spirits for permission whenever one wants to go into the jungle. Trekkers must also be mindful not to raise their ire by pulling up the plants or easing themselves under a tree as it may be home to a spirit.

Stories aside, also note that Fraser’s Hill is not known as Little England for nothing. The charming English style bungalows are a reminiscent of the colonial days and you can experience what living in one is like from Highlands Resthouse Holdings.

These abodes come complete with caretakers like Lim Tee Tuang, 69, a retired teacher, who takes care of the Dacres Bungalow in Jalan Sri Pahang. Lim, a father of three who came to Fraser’s Hill in 1968, revealed that Dacres has seen many return guests who flock to the hill to find retreat in the peace and quiet.

This article was sponsored by Fraser’s Pine Resort and the people of Fraser’s Hill. A special mention of gratitude also goes to Daud Ramli who had opened his stables just so that my sons could have their morning ride. Heigh Ho Daud!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Living Like The King

. Abdul Aziz Mohd Daud loves to play Sexy Elvis.

NOTE: This article was written in 2005 and is posted here in dedication to Aziz Daud who at that time was dealing with a painful hip condition who in spite of it, gave not one but many sterling performances with his group of Elvis impersonator friends. Today, Aziz can walk in comfort after an operation and we hope that he will continue to bring Elvis back to life.

AN Elvis impersonator on stage is always quite a sight. Invariably, the first thing that will catch your eye is the shiny jumpsuit à la the King's Las Vegas era. It may be tacky, but it ain't cheap, costing anywhere between RM1,000 and RM2,000.

But at the end of the day, the suit is still just a prop. As Joe Rozario, 55, an Elvis impersonator of four years says, "You have to live and breathe Elvis.

"The first thing you must have is The Voice. Then you must have the slightly Elvis look about you. No moustache, please, or you're out. Next comes the outfit, followed by the moves and shakes," he says.

But the most important thing of all is devotion to the man. In order to be like Elvis, an impersonator must be an Elvis fan.

Rozario, for example, dedicates the first piece of his birthday cake every year to Elvis. It is his way of remembering The King of Rock ‘n' Roll, who passed away on the eve of Rozario's 27th birthday.

Peter Lee (above) and his son (Alfred) are both Elvis impersonators.

"When the news of Elvis' death reached me, I was about to turn 27. My mum had arranged a party for me but I refused to join in. All I wanted to do was to listen to Elvis songs the whole day. That is why relatives would refer to Elvis as my ‘uncle', because of the way I reacted to the news," says Rozario.

Rozario, who is an executive at a local brewery, says that even off-stage and minus the suit, he can attract attention with his Elvis-styled sunshades and long sideburns. He recalls a holiday in Bombay two years ago where he overheard airport staff whispering excitedly that ‘Elvis' had arrived!

It didn't end there, either. While having drinks at a hotel bar, a staff, noticing the way Rozario looked, asked if he could entertain them with a few Elvis numbers. He obliged with a 15-minute performance.

Another Elvis impersonator Abdul Aziz Mohd Daud, 51, says he always adds a bit of humour to his routine.

"Sometimes I introduce myself as Michael Jackson's father-in-law," he says gleefully.

Joe Rozario was deeply affected when Elvis died.

A businessman by day, Aziz says he has been an Elvis fan since he was in his 20s. Like Rozario, the King's death had quite an impact on him.

"It was only after receiving news of his death that I began to study his lyrics and took up singing," Aziz confesses.

Aziz's first gig as an Elvis impersonator was at The Weld in 1980. He was also the 1st runner-up in the "Be Elvis and Win" competition organised by Discovery Travel and Adventure back in Aug 2002.

"There are many aspects to Elvis, so it is difficult to copy him 100%. I know I don't sound 100% like Elvis but I cover that up with dance movements and try to incorporate a little bit of Elvis' sexiness in my act," Aziz says.

"When I started impersonating the King, my wife said I looked like a fool. Luckily, her friends came to see me perform and gave a good review. After that, she gave me the thumbs up," reveals Aziz.

The oldest of the Elvis impersonators is Peter Lee, 60. Lee, who has been impersonating Elvis for 10 years now, recalls a gig he did for the Stroke Association last year. He played to an audience of 2,000 patients.

"The audience was in crutches, wheelchairs and lying on stretchers. Most of them could not move but during the show, I could see them raising their hands and moving to the music. Later, a friend told me that one guy who had raised his hand never could do so before," says Lee.

Lee, who plays the drums and guitar, has a four-piece band called The Malaysianaires, after Elvis' original band, The Jordanaires.

Out of their costumes, Rozario, Lee, Wong and Abdul Aziz look like regular guys.

Lee's son, Alfred, 34, is also an Elvis impersonator, and this is a fact that Lee is extremely proud of.

Apart from an appreciative audience, impersonators can command fees ranging from RM500 to RM8,000 per gig. Making money from your devotion isn't a bad deal.

  • If you want to catch these Elvis impersonators in action, catch their tribute performance on Jan 8 (Elvis's birthday) and Aug 16 (the anniversary of his death). Regular jam sessions are held at Dragon's Head Pub and Bistro in Kelana Jaya every Wednesday. For private or corporate functions call 019-2668446 (Aziz), 019-6441148 (Peter) or 013-3986807 (Joe)