Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jeffrey Yong promises to teach how to make a guitar in two weeks

Learn how to make a guitar in two weeks. That’s Jeffrey Yong’s promise to aficionados who are looking at creating their own signature tunes.

At Yong’s workshop in Pandan Indah, aspiring luthiers will be given the lowdown on woodworking techniques to make anything from fender benders to acoustic guitars.

The man himself: Yong, surrounded by his creations. The gambustar, a hybrid of the traditional oud and guitar which he invented, is at right.

Using modern technology for faster cutting and assembly, students will learn to do fret board calculations, position bracings for the top and bottom boards for sound optimisation and apply aesthetic finishings.

Experience-wise, Yong, 51, has handcrafted guitars for INXS, UB40, Alex Von Voorst and Roger Wang.

As a mark of quality workmanship, Yong’s guitars were placed in the top three spots when the Prestige Guild of American Luthiers (GAL) held a blind test listening session at a convention at Tacoma, Washington in 2006.

This former Yamaha guitar instructor, who made his first guitar from a DIY kit in 1984, is also adept at making exotic instruments like the sundatang, sapelele and gu zheng.

Working on the details: Alex Yam, 21, from Hong Kong working on his guitar at Yong’s workshop.

One of Yong’s innovation is the gambustar, a hybrid of the traditional gambus and the acoustic guitar. Over the course of seven years, Yong has made three gambustars for local musician Farid Ali, better known as Mr Gambus.

The latest one, a 12- stringed creation of narra wood with French polishing and ebony inlay, took centre stage at the ‘Gambus Goes Latin’ concert at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas in April last year.

Exposed: The back of top and back boards of a guitar have to be supported by bracings to help shape the guitar and optimize sound.

“I have always believed in not following the norm! Advancing as a luthier requires one to constantly experiment with new ideas and materials. This was also one of the reasons why I looked into the overseas market so that I could gain exposure,” said Yong who will be displaying his guitars at the Healdsburg Guitar Festival in California in August this year.

The eldest of six siblings who grew up in a single-parent family, Yong recalled that his musical venture did not have the support of his mother who was a rubber tapper.

“Guitarists were perceived to sport long hair and was prone to boozing and drugs. They were generally looked upon as an irresponsible lot,” said Yong.

Sign of prosperity: An airbrushed piece depicting koi on the back of a partially-completed guitar.

However, this father of two was determined to pursue a career in music and show his family that playing the guitar was a respectable field in its own right.

He made his point by starting out as an instructor for Yamaha in Jalan Birch after completing Form Five and went on to open the Guitar Institute of Malaysia in 1993 with 20 instructors and 200 students.

But aspiring luthiers take note. While Yong is known for rewarding deserving individuals with yong tau foo lunches, this professional is strictly the no-nonsense type.

No smoking is allowed in the workshop, punctuality is compulsory and “lazy” students are generally ignored.

Richard Philips, 43, from Britain and a classical guitarist who had found out about the course online, said of Yong: “If you’re interested, then he is interested.”

Course fees start from US$2,000 (RM7,176) per person and all materials and tools are provided.

Yong’s workshop is at 32, Jalan 3, Pandan Indah Industrial Park, 55100, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. For more enquiries, log on to or call 03-42976251.

Published in The Star on Wednesday 29th July 2008 in Metro Central.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Fairy Treatment

A tutu maker puts her childhood memories into a business.

JOANNE Lee’s study area looked like something out of a tableau. There were yards of tulle floating like mist on the floor and puffy clouds of tutus hanging from the wall. Lee herself was clad in a multi-coloured tutu and looking like a life-sized Tinkerbell, she completed the picture of a dream-like fairy workshop. This is the impression one gets upon entering Tutu Workshop, a home-based enterprise Lee started three months ago.

But the whirl of thoughts in the 24-year-old’s head was a contrast to this pretty picture. Lee, who is currently selling her tutus via her blog and through consignments at three outlets in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, has admitted to a common ailment that besieges all new entrepreneurs – self-doubt.

Sweet memories: Joanne Lee ventured into tutu-making because it reminds her of how special she felt when she was picked to be a flower girl at the wedding of her nanny’s sons.

It did not help that some of the people closest to her have commented that tutus may not be relevant in this current economic time and even hinted that she should opt for something that would bring faster returns on her investment.

This tutu-maker, who started off with a capital of RM3,000, revealed that she has spent the past three months setting up her business from scratch.

The graphic design graduate who has worked with retail brands like Girls, Teddy Tales and Party Princess revealed that work pressure often left her in tears. One moment of despair came when a fabric supplier in Selayang (Selangor) refused to give her a refund for a batch of moth-eaten tulle.

All set for a fancy dress party in a tri-colored tutu in purple, black and lilac tulle with black bows.

“Can you imagine? I quietly walked away when he got rude about the refund issue. I should have given him a piece of my mind but being so new in the business, I thought it would be better not to make enemies,” she said, shrugging.

Admittedly, Lee has had to develop a thick skin.

“Being a newcomer means having to knock on doors and hoping that the people who answer your calls will help you. For now, I am just thankful that the retailers are letting me put my goods in their shop so that I can make my presence felt. There are times when I feel that I am being taken advantage of but for now I’d have to take it as a learning experience instead of being a fighter cock,” said Lee.

The tableau-like setting of Lee’s home tutu workshop

This means that she is determined to plod on, reassuring herself that she will find a niche market for her exclusive, custom-made tutus. Taking stock of her strengths, she counted the good rapport with her customers and the quality of her soft, tulle fabrics as pluses.

“Am I being realistic? That depends on how I am going to handle my business. If I give up, then Tutu Workshop is as good as gone. I don’t want this to happen and let my critics gloat,” said Lee.

The one fear that Lee knows she has no control over is the threat from copy cats. There is always a possibility of a richer and bigger fashion house taking her idea and making it their own but Lee’s strategy is to persevere, develop new products and maintain the quality of her tutus.

In effect, Lee has no urgent need to put herself on such an emotional roller coaster. The second of four siblings, she already has a secure position as a business consultant in her parents’ acrylic factory in Kepong.

The factory, which specialises in exhibition displays and sales stands for shopping malls, art galleries and museums, is into its 20th year and Lee’s experience as a designer is appreciated by her parents as an asset. In fact, when Lee announced that she was starting Tutu Workshop, the news was not well received.

“I wanted something of my own,” was Lee’s answer to why she had forged ahead with her entrepreneurial plans.

Meanwhile, what is spurring this single girl on is a personal vision to fulfil the dream of little girls who want to live out their fairy princess fantasies.

Lilac princess tutu complete with tiara and magic wand

“Though my childhood influences were predominantly Chinese, I had a Eurasian nanny who exposed me to this Western aspect of fairy princesses,” revealed Lee.

Lee’s tutu-making venture has its roots in her childhood memories.

She was chosen to be a flower girl twice when she was five and eight at her nanny’s family weddings. Having the chance to dress in frilly pink dresses and lace bonnets left a lasting impression on Lee, who recalled how special she had felt during these occasions.

“The idea of making tutus was a natural choice because it had a special meaning for me,” she said simply.

Her past experience with the retail industry also convinced Lee that she could fulfil the demands of this niche market.

“If you look around, most tutus are either restricted to pink or purple. Having taught art to children before, I know that these are not the only colours that girls like. So, by making tutus in colours that they like, I am giving them a chance to express their sense of style and fashion sense.”

Speaking of her work, Lee highlighted that she has made black tutus with orange bows for a witchy effect and striped ones topped with bows. Available in different lengths and various styles, Lee also adds the glam element by hand-sewing sequins on her tutus.

While the fantasy factor has worked well for Tutu Workshop, Lee opined that one can also use her tutus as an accessory with jeans, tights, T-shirts and tube tops.

“There is a lot of sweet loveliness involved, very romantic,” she enthused.

And coming from an individual who still says “Hello” to her Mario doll every morning, one can be assured of the magical element in Lee’s handmade tutus.

Tutu Workshop products can be found in the Klang Valley at Kidz Spot in Tropicana Mall, Little Haven in The Curve and The Baby Loft at The Waterfront @ Parkcity. Lee’s tutus can also be ordered online at For enquiries, call 012-369 7996.

Published in The Star, Star Two on Thursday July 23, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

Get the drift?

You’ve probably seen Tokyo Drift and ogled the parade of fast cars. Now you can do it for real with a group of drifting enthusiasts, says GRACE CHEN.

AT the empty parking lot at USJ 1 Industrial Park, the usual jokes about guys driving fast cars to pick up chicks made the rounds.

Except for Ee Yoong Cherng, a.k.a. Nismo, 28, who has a wife who is two month’s pregnant, the other four are all bachelors. Sean Khoo, 34, is veteran with 14 years of experience; Lim Zee King, 26, competed in the D1GP Malaysia 2006 Championship, Terence Lim, 29, is an executive, and Jeremie Curzon, 27, is an accountant.

These guys are “drifters”, and they have been together for three years. Terence is credited for bringing everyone together.

Drifters (from left) Sean Khoo, Ee Yoong Cherng, Ee’s wife Yam Siew Kin, Jeremie Curzon, Terence Lim and Lim Zee King posing with a kitted out Silvia S14. — Starpic by LAI VOON LOONG
“I was like a stalker. If I saw another driver with a Nissan Silvia on the highway, I would pull them over and introduce myself. Sometimes I would startle people by knocking on car windows at 2am,” laughs Terence.

Terence’s persistence has helped bring about, a web community of 4,742 members online and 19 active drifters in its profile.

“The objective is to take drifting out of the underground and to come out with proper facilities and arrangements, where we can develop the art of driving without endangering the public.

“We rent car parks and then conduct drifting clinics where we introduce the basic techniques to beginners. The classes are done one-on-one with a maximum intake of 10 cars. This is where the beginner will learn how to drift the right way rather than the hard way in an accident,” says Sean.

So what is drifting?

Zee King, or Zee for short, the competition drifter who drives a Nissan 180SX, says that the act of fish tailing one’s car and burning off at least two to three pairs of tires on a hot day can be likened to a style of artistic driving.

“It looks very ‘kamikaze,” he offers.

Just imagine going around the bends of a Genting Highlands-style circuit at full speed.

The car is skidding and the tires are screeching. The engine screams in protest as the driver jams the throttle and kicks the clutch. It looks like the car is going out of control as the rear end chases the front around. Just when you think the car is going to crash and turn turtle, the driver wrests control of his car and drives off nonchalantly.

According to Nismo, drifting takes a lot of commitment.

“It’s about judgement. In a circuit, you must know when to make the transition from right to left and keep the car in control. If you oversteer, the car may hit the outside wall,” he says

In a competition, the best of 16 cars will actually take turns in a two by two challenge in what is called door to door drifting. This daring show of skill and guts has all the thrilling elements of speed, flair and tire smoke.

The actual speed achieved is variable. A small doughnut (where the car spins in circles) starts from 40kph, though the speedometer will show a reading of 80kph because of the rapid wheel rotation. At a drift circuit, cars may take to the bends at 100kph-140kph.

“The idea is to angle the car as much as possible and slide as close as you can at the corner. If you make a mistake, you might hit the other driver,” says Nismo.

It’s like a turbo-charged merry-go-round being in a drifting car, and enthusiasts cannot get enough of it. Sean says driver and car become one and the only focus are the dial readings and the engine feel. “All your senses are tuned to the car. You can feel the speed in your back. If a tire is about to go, or if the clutch is burning, you’d smell it,” he says.

The dashboards of these drifting machines are like the control panels of airplane cockpits. Nismo says that they are necessary to protect the car.

“The dials show the engine conditions like water and oil temperature. Once the fever is up, you have to cool down,” he says.

Failure to do so will certainly burn a hole in one’s wallet. Curzon, who drives a Nissan Cefiro A31, recalls when he practically toasted his engine in 2005. His repair bill was a hefty RM15,000!

published in The Star on Saturday, July 8, 2006.

Up close with the Drift King

The atmosphere at the Shah Alam D1 Grand Prix media booth is a frantic one as reporters and photographers jostle for the Drift King’s attention. Outside, the roar of engines and the sounds of screeching tyres make conversation nearly impossible.

Keiichi Tsuchiya, however, is a picture of calm amidst all the excitement about him. The 50-year-old, who looks younger than his age, sits comfortably. His hands are clasped together and a slight smile on his face lights up the cramped booth. Flanking him are two shapely models in tube tops with the D1GP logos emblazoned on their chests.

A glint in Tsuchiya’s eye suggests a predilection for mischief, but he is on his best behaviour right now.

This is Tsuchiya’s third visit to Malaysia. He says he started drifting at age 18 on the mountain roads of Japan. But Tsuchiya realised early on that racing on the streets would lead to nowhere. So, at 21, he decided to go legal and made his début at the Fuji Freshman Race in 1977. That same year, he managed to convince car magazines and tuning garages to produce a video of his drifting skills.

From top to bottom: Drift King Keiichi Tsuchiya at a drifting demonstration in Shah Alam. — Starpix by LOW LAY PHON
Though the video became a hit, the Drift King would not actually make his mark until 1984.

He was running last in a stock car race. Instead of losing gracefully, Tsuchiya began to do a series of kamikaze turns, stunning the crowd

“I was just trying to catch up with the rest,” he says, simply.

But Tsuchiya is not here to talk about the past. He is here for one reason. The D1 Grand Prix. It is the third round of the drifting challenge in Shah Alam, and the main focus is on the drift circuit and the competitors, for he is the official judge.

Genji Hashimoto, 40, of Amprex Motorsports who holds the D1GP franchise in South-East Asia, says that Tsuchiya was picked so that the competitors would be judged fairly.

“Everyone respects his decision because he is the Drift King,” says Hashimoto.

And at the Shah Alam circuit (last Saturday), respect is not the only thing Tsuchiya gets. He has the crowd’s adoration as well. Shrugging off the strict formalities that judges so often affect, he waves like a celebrity. When Tsuchiya, who has a cameo appearance in the Tokyo Drift, got into a Nissan Skyline GTR for a demo drive, the spectators went wild.

However, in one demo run on a 300m circuit he designed himself, the Drift King actually came to an embarrassing halt in mid-drift at the first curve pin.

As the crowd gasped in disbelief, Tsuchiya spun back to the starting point. There would be no mistake the second time round. Zooming in at 100kph, he commanded the GTR into a sideways position at the first curve pin. He glides it to the opening of the second curve pin and snaps it back into a sideways angle again as the car hurtles dangerously close to the tyre barriers. At the last moment, he brings the car back into a straight line and exits as the crowd cheers him on.

Later, Tsuchiya gives a post-mortem of what went wrong.

“The engine just stalled,” he shrugs.

Through his interpreters, he explains that a malfunctioning third gear was the most likely cause.

Slip-ups notwithstanding, riding with the Drift King is an exhilarating experience.

Orgasmic, I’d say. One gets the impression that he is completely in his element as he kicks the clutch and switches gears, quickly and with ease.

Datuk Ahmad Nawawi, the exco for the Selangor state council, also went on a demo ride. He describes his ride with Tsuchiya as “scary”.

“I knew that I would be okay because he is a pro but after the ride, I felt a little off balance,” says the slightly dazed but exhilarated politician.

Later, Tsuchiya says he had not gone all the way with the demo rides.

“I was only putting in about 75% of my abilities,” he shrugs.

While Tsuchiya may have been a daredevil in his younger days, it looks like age has mellowed him a bit. Safety comes first.

Catch a glimpse of the Drift King at Round Four of the D1GP in Penang in August or the finals in Shah Alam in October. For enquiries call Ginny Ng of Amprex Motorsports at 012-2923955

published in The Star on Saturday, July 8, 2006.

Shifting gear

Tengku Djan, a.k.a. Tandem Assassin, expectedly wore out a lot of tyres during his weekend workshop.

Having mastered the art of drifting GT cars, Tengku Djan Ley Tengku Mahaleel is now geared towards drifting remote controlled cars.

AT Carpark A in Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur, Tengku Djan Ley Tengku Mahaleel was surrounded by three newbies, eager to pick up tips on drifting.

Though the afternoon sun was relentless, the three were unfazed by the heat.

While lesser mortals would have wilted, the newbies were hanging on to Tengku Djan’s every word, bent on gleaning whatever drift tips they could dig out from this Kelantanese blue blood.

And Tengku Djan seemed to come across like a school P.E. instructor that sunny weekend.

Like an encouraging coach psyching up his charges, most of whom were no older than 25, he spoke patiently and clearly, and for this display of dedication, he was rewarded with rapt attention.

Getting his point across: Tengku Djan teaching a participant how to drift safely.

One also suspected that these newcomers were also a little awed by being in his presence, but that was to be expected.

The man has a quite a rep for being a daredevil on track.

Afterall, the 32-year-old is the “Prince of Drift” and rumours about him being “The Tandem Assassin” also holds true.

He has a knack for “eliminating” his competitors by overtaking them, most times with only a mere heart stopping inches to spare before sliding sideways and finishing off with a brilliant flourish at the exit.

Not surprisingly, when the workshop was announced on his website, it was immediately fully booked.

But when the drift star was if he will be imparting his skills on a regular basis from now on, he shrugged.

Any additional workshops will only happen after Hari Raya as he will be preparing for the 12-hour Merdeka Millenium endurance race in the upcoming two weeks.

“This weekend was special because everything just gelled together and mainly because my girlfriend is away for the weekend,” he grinned sheepishly.

Herein, you must know one thing about this automotive engineer who is also the head of Proton Motorsports. He is not adverse to a bit of leg pulling and is the sort who would laugh at the drop of a hat. And the sound of his mirth is likened to the sound of a bell’s peal – a succession of hearty laughs would send the heaviest clouds of gloom scurrying to make way for rays of sunshine and rainbows to emerge.

“I am no joker but I like to laugh and I don’t know why I like to do that,” confessed this jovial character.

And you’ve guessed it, Tengku Djan is a comedy fan.

“I used to watch a lot of Mind Your Language (a British comedy series set in a language school) and Black Adder (starring Rowan Atkinson) because they are easy to watch and you can walk out happy.

And I am one who believes in being happy because no matter what kind of problems may come your way, you will somehow see things positively,” he said.

And speaking of being happy, Tengku Djan obviously has some novel ways to de-stress. One would be in spending time training his pet beagle and another, to toy with his remote controlled car which he can also drift!

“When the RC community called me to judge their drifting competitions about two years ago, I thought why not get involved as well. So I went out and bought myself a Yokomo RC car at Hobby Haven in Subang,” he revealed.

And herein, he would reveal sotto voce that he had chosen to take the shortcut by buying the display unit instead of starting from scratch with the assembly kit.

Expectedly, Tenku Djan finished this sentence with a loud laugh.

“This is a fuss-free hobby for me when I have one or two hours to spare. Then it’s off to the mamak stall for a roti telur and teh o ais,” he revealed.

But when he’s got more time, it’s down to the real boy’s stuff, dirt biking on his Husqvarna, where he can ride off with a group of five to 10 buddies.

“Oh, please don’t ask me where the best trials are, because I just follow.

“Most times, it’s a combination of rubber estates and logging routes. A half-day trip would be to Cameron Highlands and a full day trip to Gua Musang,” he said.

And no, as he describes it in his own words, there is no time to stop and admire this flower or tree.

“You work your body a lot because there are some routes when you have to get off and push.

“There are times when you also have to get a whole fleet of bikes across a river.

“So it can be rather tiring,” explained Tengku Djan on why there’s no time for bird watching or botanical studies.

He also issued a warning for the uninitiated dirt bike rider.

“Never stop in the middle of a herd of cows. If they get spooked, they can do considerable damage to machine and man,” he warned.

What he counts as important is dinner with his parents, and time spent with family.

Here’s an interesting fact – Tengku Djan may take over the wheel with his mum or when he’s on a date. However, when he is with his father, Tengku Tan Sri Mahaleel, it’s Dad who’s still in charge of the wheel.

“This is when I can sit back and enjoy being driven for a change,” beamed Tengku Djan proudly of his doting father.

To contact Tengku Djan, check out

published in The Star on Sunday, August 3, 2008.

A night of dazzling bling

AS EXPECTED, the crystal bead embroidery competition held by the Fashion Trade Institute of Malaysia Designing Centre (FTIMdc) was a night for the beading community to emerge in a glory of eye-bedazzling bling.

A theme of traditional Malay glamour set the mood for the gala dinner at which models and guests competed for attention in their richly embroidered baju kurung.

But, more than anything else, it was the underlying current of emotion which spoke the loudest amidst the rustle of glamorous heavily sequinned fabrics.

Labour of love: Fauzah Nurzuruhan showing off the fancy beadwork her sister has done on her sleeves.

For one, FTIMdc principal Rosita Jaafar, 44, had chosen her mother, Maimunah Md. Halim, 64, to officiate at this inaugural competition. This, on Rosita’s part, was one way of honouring the woman who had been the strongest force in providing her with the inspiration to start a school and subsequently, the publication of nine beading and embroidery books in her name.

Rosita also surprised her own employees and suppliers by calling them on stage to receive tokens of appreciation for their faith and support over the years.

In her opening speech, Rosita stressed the importance for women to equip themselves with the necessary skills so that they would be able to sustain themselves and their children financially.

Citing her mother Maimunah as an example of a single mother who had raised three children by sewing costumes for entertainers in Johor, Rosita pointed out that instead of surrendering to tears and depression, her mother had opted to empower herself with her sewing skills.

“Tears will not bring anything but hunger and hardship for you and your children. But, equip yourself with a skill and you will be able to hold your head high, proud in the knowledge that you can provide for your family. Though I will not promise that beading and embroidery will bring you riches, I can assure you that it can improve your lives by providing you with extra income,” Rosita said in her speech.

For the competition, participants were judged on their creativity, where imagination was required to coordinate the colours and shapes of the beads and bring out the beauty of the base fabric. Workman­ship was another criterion, whereby the neatness of stitches and the fine details, such as the crumpling of fabric around a cluster of beads, were taken into account.

“There is something priceless in the art of bead and sequin em­broidery because it requires two things that no machine can replicate – the gentleness of the human hand and an infinite amount of patience,” Rosita stressed.

Worthy gift: DK Hazlina, wearing the kebaya given by her husband as part of their wedding ‘hantaran’. She walked away with the best dressed prize that evening.

The crystal beads embroidery competition was held in conjunction with the FTIMdc’s 10th anniversary. at the Tun Rahah Grand Ballroom in Menara Yayasan Tun Razak.

Twenty-three participants sent in their embroidered baju kurung designs for the competition and the top three winners were given prizes with a net worth of RM6,000, consisting of 916 gold lockets, trophies, a vacation to a local destination and certificates as well as gifts from sponsors. Ain Nurfarahin Zyed Ahmad, a 20-year-old student of the centre, won the competition with her floral-themed arrangement on a red baju kurung.

Blogger and avid beader D.K. Hazlina won the best dressed award for the night wearing a green kebaya which had been part of her dowry from her husband’s side.

For further information, visit or call 03-5638 2949

published in The Star on Monday, April 13, 2009.

A tribute to T-shirts

Figure Eight, a fashion and music event saw a hip crowd turning up in full force at their T-shirt bazaar and dancing to their line-up of local bands at the Central Market Annexe recently.

Though the flyer did not say it, there was no denying that this “do” was a tribute of sorts to the humble tee with the appearance of eight local bands wearing limited edition T-shirts.

Drummer and founder of Tugu Drum Circle, Paul Lau, 46, was the first to sing to his piece of cotton covering.

Hanging out in comfort: (From left) Shahir, Fyra and Ewan clad in to their favourite tees to suit the occasion.
“T-shirts are the easiest to wear when it comes to performances. Unlike sequined stage costumes that have to be dry-cleaned, you can just chuck a T-shirt into a washing machine. I’d rather wear them than anything else,” he said.

At the gig, Tugu Drum Circle wore white limited edition tees with colourful screen-printed figures designed by Kurasaraksaksa, a label that also carries a line of unusual jewellery, bleached and worn sneakers.

Otherwise, what makes a T-shirt cool, apart from the material, is definitely the design.

According to Norhayati Md. Noh, 3,1 of Dollhouse, the idea was to achieve authenticity with inspiration from everyday life.

“It is important to express oneself and the T-shirt is one way you can do that and be noticed,” she said.

And for a touch of radical self-expression, there is no better vehicle than the T-shirt.

DTG, an acronym for Don't Trust Girls, is one such label, a division of crazeecausa, a local line of skater related merchandise founded by a Mike Tan in 2004.

“Just like girls are always saying that boys are not to be trusted, here’s an insight to how boys feel about girls as well,” the stall operator said at the bazaar.

In what he terms as an effort to promote the local music and T-shirt art scene, Warren Chan, 29, organiser of Figure Eight, said it was inevitable for these two disciplines to complement each other.

Chicken Hotel: Norhayati of Dollhouse says this T-shirt is open to your interpretation.
“Musicians are like heroes and naturally, their fans would want to have a piece of them. One way to do this (in addition to buying the band’s music) is to wear a t-shirt with a picture of the band on it,” he said.

As for the objective of connecting T-shirts and music for the Figure Eight event, Chan said he had seen this as an opportunity to help the fledgling T-shirt design scene.

“It is a young but thriving market. This is largely due to the fact that T-shirt art is more accessible to the youth unlike art (say for example the work of a portrait artist) because they can wear it,” Chan said.

At this juncture, Reza Salleh, 24, Chan’s assistant said T-shirts were not only for the young but transcends across all generations.

“One of my favourite photographs is of my grandpa in a Batman T-shirt,” he said.

As for the negative image of the T-shirt wearer being a slovenly and unprofessional character, Reza said it was as a matter of perception.

“We are not here with the agenda to say that you should wear a T-shirt to the office though I know a lot of professionals who do. We are just giving the artists an outlet for creativity because we feel T-shirt art is a valid art form and it should be given the same amount of respect,” he said.

The Figure Eight event is organised by Junk, a music magazine that targets those aged 18 to 25.

For more details, visit

published in The Star on Saturday June 23, 2007

Magical Moments on Mt Mat Cincang

AS OUR cable car glides over lush rainforests towards the summit of Langkawi's Mt Mat Cincang, a humanlike profile in the rock formations comes into view.

"Look closely," says Guide Thomas Lam, 35. "See how the rock formation resembles the profile of a man? See, the tip of its nose covered by clouds."

I trace the outline on the cable car window and wonder if the clouds at the tip of the nose are not condensed vapour from a breathing entity. It's all a bit whimsical, but then Langkawi is a land steeped in fables.

Mat Cincang, it is said, was a giant who was turned into a mountain after a quarrel with his son's in-laws. The two families had been celebrating the engagement of their children when Mat Cincang's son was caught flirting with another woman and a fight ensued. In the mêlée, pots and pans and other kitchen utensils were turned into missiles.

Clouds surrounding Mt Mat Cincang made it look magical. (Inset) The Langkawi Cable Car.

Apparently, this engagement-gone-sour is why Langkawi has strange names for its towns.

Langkawi's capital, Kuah (gravy), is said to be the spot where gravy spilt from this legendary fight. Belanga Pecah (broken cooking pot) marks the spot where a pot broke into pieces. Air Hangat (hot springs) was where hot water was flung, and Selat Cincin (ring straits), which separates Langkawi from Terutau Island in Thailand, is the body of water over which the engagement ring went flying.

As the gondola makes a slow ascent and wisps of clouds float past, I wonder if the story might indeed be true.

Of course, I had also learnt that Mat Cincang, which is part of a mountain range that extends all the way to Yunan in China, arose when geological upheavals pushed sandstone up from the seas. Erosion over 161 million years ago then carved the mountains, somehow bringing about the humanlike rock face.

Science is well and good, but myths are so much more engaging, don't you think?

As we near the Top Station, I take in the scenic view of the Mat Cincang range. Up ahead, the mountain face seems to have been scarred by a landslide. To my left, a waterfall plunges into a thick carpet of trees.

General manager of Langkawi Development Authority (LADA), Kamarulzaman Abdul Ghani, who trekked up the 3.2km trail that links Telaga Tujuh to the middle and top stations, tells me that the forest has some of the world's oldest rainforest trees, and of these, the Shorea curtise, the tallest species of trees on the island, can grow up to 60m high.

"There is one part of the trail called the Hanging Gardens where you can see trees coming out of the rocks. This is where I saw a 17cm-long centipede," says the 50-something Kamarulzaman with astonishment.

For some reason, I ask if he thinks Langkawi and Mat Cincang will be around for another 450 million years.

"Some people say that the end of the world is near. But near or far is relative. Imagine, the world has been here for 4.5 billion years, so it's been around a long time. But for a small ant, a few weeks is comparable to a few hundred years. When we talk about eternity and all the things which are relative to time, it brings out a different perspective. It makes you think whether living for a hundred years is short or long when you compare it to the mountains, the seas and the stars," Kamarulzaman replies.

When I alight at the Top Station, the wind is blowing, its misty and it all looks surreal. We make our way to the pedestrian bridge, 10 minutes away. It spans 125m across a chasm. At 700m above sea level, the view from here is spectacular!

You look out to the Andaman Sea and find that sea and sky have become one. Mat Cincang looks glorious up close.

The cable car, Lam adds, is part of LADA's eco-tourism project. Costing close to RM50mil, its construction was carried out with due deligence, using a cable and helicopter to carry building materials up the mountain. Trees were felled only when necessary.

I'm more interested in the rock faces peering out from amidst the greenery. Because of the mist, the colours from the sandstone are muted, but you can tell they are a warmish brown with traces of yellow and black streaks – the effect of trace minerals caused by compacting pressures over millions of years.

Since it took Mat Cincang 450 million years to grow to a height of 713m, that works out to 1.58m per one million years. So, where mountains are concerned, 100 years is indeed a relatively short time. W

Langkawi Cable Car is located in Oriental Village, Burau Bay on the southwest coast of Langkawi. It is a 15-minute drive from Langkawi International Airport and 30 minutes from Kuah. For bookings, call (04) 959 4225.

Published in The Star on Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pachyderm with personality

The Oriental Village, at the foot of Mt Mat Cincang, is home to a glamour-loving elephant which starred in Anna and The King.

Lasah is an Asian male elephant and, from what I hear, a star. His impressive credentials include appearances in Anna and The King – even walking alongside Chow Yuen Fatt and Jodie Foster in one scene.

He has also appeared on stage with Loris Alessandro Togni (a circus star) in Genting Highlands.

Before hitting the big time, Lasah was a favourite with local zoo-goers where he displayed his logging skills and performed other cute tricks.

Now, he is no doubt the star of Oriental Village in Langkawi, taking visitors on fun rides at the foot of Mt Mat Cincang.

When I met the star pachyderm, he was having a bath, luxuriating in the cool sprays of water shooting out of a hose. His handler, Jason Loh, 39, is strict man and makes sure his four-ton charge is treated like a lord (the animal has four people to attend to his needs).

“If you don’t want to feed the elephant, please stay back,” Loh says, while shooing me away. In what seems to be the hundredth time, Loh wearily explains that this is part of the safety procedure.

“After giving visitors a fun ride, Lasah will expect a treat from them. The feeding is a form of reward for his hard work. When the treats fail to materialise, he could decide to ‘remind’ you to feed him by flicking his trunk. Remember that the human body is only made up of 6,000 muscles whereas an elephant’s trunk alone has 40,000,” Loh lectures.

Needless to say, a “gentle” reminder from Lasah would be likened to being knocked out by 50 Mike Tysons in one go!

Lasah with handler, Johari. — Picture by GRACE CHEN
Meanwhile, Lasah is oblivious to Loh’s anxieties. The adorable brute heaves himself off the ground after a vigorous towel-drying from another handler, Johari.

“Look, how handsome I am,” Lasah seems to be saying. Then it starts to rain. Lasah expresses his delight by raising his trunk to the sky.

Lasah’s trunk must have sniffed out my camera because he proceeds to pose, lifting one massive leg up to ehxibit his dexterity. Meanwhile, Loh continues to watch over Lasah like an overprotective butler and makes no bones about being the strictest animal handler around.

“I don’t allow anyone to play with Lasah’s head. When someone is getting on him, the last thing I want is for the elephant to turn and look as the passenger still has one foot in the basket and another on the platform,” says Loh.

And remember, an elephant is at least three metres tall. A fall from that height will invariably break a bone or two!

As long as Lasah gets his daily feed of 150kg -270kg of grass, banana trunks, sugar cane (his favourite) and wild bananas, he’s happy. The pachyderm also has a fondness for the onion and basil bread from the Red Tomato café in Pantai Cenang, about 30 minutes drive from the Oriental Village.

For now, Lasah has more important business to attend to – making mud balls and shooting them onto his back with his trunk. This vexes Johari no end as he is still puffing from the exertion of bathing the massive mammal. Lasah duly ignores his handler’s rueful stares.

“My trunk can easily suck up 14.2 litres of water which will clean up the mess in no time. Besides, mud makes a good sunscreen,” Lasah seems to be saying.

Though tough, an elephant’s skin is very sensitive. Without regular mud baths to protect him from the sun and insect bites, he will have skin problems.

But Lasah seems to be having too much fun to care as he uses his trunk to make patterns in the mud. When the art demo turns into what looks like the beginning of a mud ball fight, Jason gives Lasah a sharp “Hoi!’’

The pachyderm looks peeved and turns around as if to say, “Spoilsport!”

He then sashays over to a tree and proceeds to rub against it. W

Lovable Lasah

Lasah was found about 26 years ago near Kampung Lasah, Perak, hence the name. He was first sent to the Singapore Zoological Gardens as a gift from Malaysia to Singapore, but was returned to us in 1996.

Jason Loh, his handler, met him in 1997 when he was placed in charge of developing a theme park in Johor. The theme park idea collapsed but the pair had become inseparable.

“You just need a week with an elephant to notice his character. Then, you’ll fall in love with him, too,” says Loh.

And yes, Lasah has personality. Take, for instance, when Loh was teaching Lasah how to fetch – something to keep him occupied while waiting for customers for the fun rides.

“After I got tired of throwing the plastic bottle, he didn’t want to give up. He picked up sticks, cans, pebbles and stones (for me to throw) – one stone weighed at least 5kg. It was not me training him anymore, but him training me,” says Loh.

He recalls an incident in March which demonstrates Lasah’s abilty to count.

“We had just arrived at the Oriental Village and were familiarising Lasah with the new area. In the morning we made him do three rounds on the track. In the afternoon, when we wanted him to do more, he complained audibly,” says Loh.

Another instance that points out an elephant’s ability to rationalise is when it comes to backscratching – a session that Lasah obviously loves although it is a tiring task for his handlers.

“When I take a rest after scratching Lasah on one side, he will make a 180 degree turn, expecting the same treatment on the other side. And after that, he will turn to face me, bow down and expect a scratch on the head too! If I forget or don’t have the time, he will remind me audibly!” says Loh.

Does the hulk ever “bully” his handlers?

You bet! It is the junior trainer Johari who usually gets walked on (though not literally). Loh maintains that Lasah is very aware of who he can bully.

And Loh, who has more than a decade of experience working with animals, says that even elephants are prone to jealousy, especially when one gets more attention than the other. They can also be rather possessive over their food.

One bull elephant, he remembers, would hoard fruits placed between him and a slightly older female. Once he picked up a sugar cane and took a swing at her in an attempt to ward her off.

On the other hand, elephants have no real need to conduct their conversations so publicly. They can always revert to infrasonic mode, a level only audible to elephants as far as four kilometres away.

One of the perks about being a solo act at the Oriental Village means undivided attention. To date, Lasah has proudly carried people from 70 countries. But Loh reveals that things may change soon with the introduction of another elephant.

A mate for Lasah, perhaps?

Loh is still unsure. Not that Lasah has been deprived of female company as he is father to a male calf who is now living in the Johor zoo. And don’t worry about separation angst. Only female elephants spend their entire lives in tightly-knit family groups. Adult males, like Lasah, live mostly solitary lives. – By GRACE CHEN

o Elephant Adventures operates from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to noon, and 2pm to 6pm, subject to weather. Monday is a rest day unless it is a public holiday or there are prior arrangements. For more information, call Jason Loh at 012-6266633.


The elephant is a protected species in Malaysia under the Wildlife Act, 1972. There are fewer than 1,500 elephants left in Malaysian forests.

Malaysia lost its cultural heritage of using elephants in daily life, following World War II. History tells us that the Sultans kept and reared elephants for official parades, wars and as beasts of burden.

The loss of habitat is the primary threat to the Asian elephant. As a result of shrinking forests (since the 50s), elephants encroach onto farms and padi fields to find food.

Conflicts between human and elephants escalated and, in 1974, wildlife authorities set up the Elephant Management Unit to address the elephant-human conflict by relocating problematic elephants.

Published in The Star on Saturday, September 9, 2006

Enjoying the good life

At King Crab, eating seafood can be a fine dining experience.

TWO words that best sum up Datuk Marcus Kam are “hip” and “happening”!

In addition to being the CEO of Pathlab and proprietor of King Crab Restaurant, he also owns the Titanium Dance Club and the Momentum Gym at Phileo Damansara.

Food on his mind: Kam has turned his fine dining experience and passion for European cuisine into a profitable concern.

The fit and trendy globetrotting father-of-four speaks four languages including Thai and French. Learning the language of love, he said, was an extension of his passion for European cuisine, and his dining experience was the genesis of King Crab, a Chinese seafood restaurant where I had a chat with him over lunch.

One that comes to mind is L’Auberge Dab, a seafood establishment in Paris famed for its oysters, filet bearnaise and crème brulee. Kam, who is the only son of Datuk Dr Kam Foong Wing, the founder of Pathlab, also revealed that he had nurtured a passion for cooking since he was eight.

“I started by making simple things like egg sandwiches and noodles. When I got older, I advanced to curries,” he said.

As Kam grew up with three sisters, it may seem odd for him to have taken such a liking to culinary art. “I was merely thinking about my future. I learned how to be a good cook so that I wouldn’t have to rely on anyone to feed me,” he reasoned.

Today, some of Kam’s specialties, like beef bourguignon and confit de carnard (duck roasted to crispy perfection and served with gently baked grapes), have titilated the palates of many well-known VIPs at his private dinner parties. However, the Johorean soon realised that the gastronomic affairs were becoming shorter and fewer in between as his business commitments grew. Not wanting to disappoint his guests and seeing that it could be a profitable venture, he went into the food business.

Raw deal: The geoduck, served on a mound of shaved ice tinted with dragon fruit juice, is best eaten raw.

It may cross the diner’s mind to ask why Kam had not started up a restaurant serving Western food instead, since he was so predisposed towards the cuisine. For the record, he has and the place is called Marco’s, an Italian concern which is just a block away from King Crab.

In fact, it was after the opening of Marco’s that Kam met three chefs who had heard about his intention to start a Chinese seafood restaurant. Understandably, the identity of the chefs is a secret that Kam guards closely. It seems the restaurant industry is notorious for staff pinching!

Should the need arise, Kam said, he could don the apron himself, but he preferred to leave the daily operations of King Crab to those who know the business best.

“I have the respect of the chefs because they know that I too know how to cook,” he quipped.

Plus he does have an effective method of quality assurance in the form of his sensitive taste buds, he said. “Most people know when the taste is off but they don’t know how to rectify it. I do. This is my unique talent.”

On Kam’s recommendation, we had geoduck for starters. The geoduck (pronounced ‘gwee duck’) was served raw, thinly sliced and resting on a bed of shaved iced that had been stained with dragon fruit juice.

Kam insisted that this was the best way to savour the subtle flavours and sweet and scrunchy texture of this northern American saltwater clam, which the Chinese have nicknamed “elephant trunk clam”.

It is believed to have aphrodisiac properties and, through its long life (these plankton-sucking clams have a life expectancy of 146 years with the oldest recorded at over 160 years), it is also tied to longevity.

At King Crab, the clams are kept alive and fresh in a well-filtered aquarium so there are no niggling doubts about their quality.

For those who must have their food cooked, a hotpot containing a supreme stock was served with the sashimi slices.

The essence of the stock – chicken, smoked pork leg and a host of Chinese herbs like dong kwai, medlar seeds and roots – all combined together to yield an aromatic broth that clung delightfully to the slices of geoduck that were dipped into it. As such, the diner may be tempted to steep the geoduck slices longer in the stock, assuming that this would give the meat extra flavour. However, Kam cautioned that doing so would cause overcooking and render the scrunchy flesh into an unchewable mass. Ideally, they should only be half cooked, he insisted.

For mains, there was the snow crab in creamy butter sauce and Kam pitched that this was actually a favourite with lady diners as the shells were soft enough to be scissored opened.

Served in a clay pot, the snow crab, which were harvested from the deep seas of Southern Australia, was coated with a delicious sauce enriched with parmesan cheese and speckled with curry leaves. A plate of mantou was considerately provided so that diners could lap up every last drop of this flavourful sauce.

In retrospect, there is a general agreement that snow crabs must be cooked with butter. It certainly makes sense as the milky notes of the golden dairy blocks marry very well with the delicate sweetness of the crab.

But note that the snow crab is not known as the king among crabs for nothing. By itself, the flesh already has a succulent buttery quality and very little seasoning is needed to bring out its flavour. “Though we can cook the snow crab in any way that the customer chooses, the best way to appreciate it is to have it steamed,” said Kam.

In the course of feasting, one would not miss the fiery green Thai chilli sauce which is present as a dip on every table. Made in Kam’s home kitchen, it is for sale and is the closest you can get to sampling his culinary skills.

King Crab is at 103-107, Jalan SS25/2, Taman Mewah Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, tel: 03-780 36999. There is a branch at 1&1A, 3&3A, Jalan Harmonium 23/12, Taman Desa Tebrau, Johor Baru, tel: 07-351 3333. Check out their website at

Sunday, July 12, 2009

When it comes to the crunch, it’s Julie’s!

All it took was the perfect crunch and a new brand of biscuits was born. Sunday Metro catches up with the man behind the brand who is still nibbling away at his own biscuits.

HOW do you chomp your way through 50 biscuits in two days and still keep trim? Ask Su Chin Hock, the man behind the household biscuit brand Julie’s.

In his line of work, there’s lots of nibbling – a few butter wafers after lunch, some cream crackers between meals and maybe some love letter rolls in front of the TV at night.

Man behind Julie’s: Su Chin Hock noticed the dearth of locally-made biscuits and decided to make his own.

“There is no secret. I just reduce my rice portions and go for brisk 5km walks four times a week,” says the managing director of Perfect Food Manufacturing, which produces 50 tonnes of biscuits a day. He is obviously very disciplined in his exercise regime as he has maintained a constant weight of 74kg since going into biscuit-making in 1984.

When asked which is his personal favourite of the 30 varieties under Julie’s, he says he has a soft spot for the peanut butter sandwich biscuit which has been instrumental in propelling the brand beyond Malaysian shores. Su shares that after he tried a version of the peanut biscuit by another brand, he decided he could come up with something better.

After close to 60 tries to perfect the recipe with a research and development team and his former partner, William Teh, a baker, Julie’s peanut butter biscuit was born.

Why Julie’s? Was the brand named after someone in the family?

“No, I just wanted a pleasant sounding English name that is easy to remember, not a Chinese name,” says the entrepreneur who was far sighted even then with plans to promote the product internationally.

Get cracking: A worker stacks up cream crackers for packaging. The factory uses 20 metric tonnes of flour daily for crackers alone.

Su, who tested and tasted every recipe, says he was striving for “the perfect mouth feel” in a biscuit which had to have that “special kind of crunch”.

“Baking can be very subjective, so you have to go back to the traditional method of putting it through a taste test,” he adds. It is one thing to perfect the crunch but another to persuade others to feel the same way. The sundry shops were initially sceptical about the locally-produced biscuit and the relatively high retail price. But they were sold on the first few chomps.

All lined up: Cream crackers fresh from the oven on their way to packing. The production line in this cracker plant is similar to the other 16 lines spread over three factories in Alor Gajah.

So good were the biscuits that the retailers did much more of the sampling than the customers. What kickstarted the demand for Julie’s on a large scale was when an agent from Singapore put in an order that filled a trailer. With this show of confidence, sales of the peanut butter biscuit finally took off.

Three years later, the demand was so good that an entire truckload of his biscuits were “hijacked” en route to Kuala Lumpur. “We couldn’t do anything because the ‘hijackers’ actually paid the driver for the entire content of the truck plus extra to drive the lorry back to the factory.”

It turned out that demand for the peanut butter biscuits had overshot supply and that hungry retailers were resorting to desperate means to keep their customers happy.

Then imitation became more than just flattery. Unscrupulous suppliers were lining the top of their own tins with Julie’s peanut butter biscuits to deceive consumers.

“What I did then was to increase the number of pinholes on the biscuit and I made this known to the sundry shops so that they could differentiate the original from the pirated ones.

“It wasn’t cheap as changing the roller cost me close to RM30,000. But it solved the problem,” recalls this accounting graduate of Singapore’s Nanyang University with a chuckle.

But it was no laughing matter growing up in poverty with 10 siblings in Bachang and having to walk 3km to a nearby biscuit factory for a tin of biscuit crumbs for RM1.

Daily tests: A tasting team checks the biscuits for Julie’s ‘special kind of crunch’.

“We were poor,” says Su whose parents were vegetable farmers.

The youngest and the most promising member of his family, he was able to pursue his studies in Singapore when his elder siblings chipped in to finance his education.

There, he met and married Lee Soon, a Singaporean, in 1974, and they have two sons, now 28 and 25.

Today, he owns three biscuit plants covering 5.3ha and 1,000 staff overseeing 17 production lines.

Success has been hard earned for this entrepreneur who started off in the tiling and construction businesses prior to establishing his first biscuit factory in Alor Gajah.

“What spurred me to get into the biscuit business was when I realised that 95% of the biscuits on the shelves were imported. This got me thinking: Why can’t Malaysians produce good biscuits locally and export to the whole world?” he says.

Julie’s peanut butter sandwich biscuit, which has a signature trademark of eight biscuit holes.

But it wasn’t easy convincing retailers and customers to give locally-produced biscuits a chance. Some agents even suggested that Su should omit mentioning that Julie’s biscuits were manufactured in Malaysia on the packaging.

“The hardest market to penetrate was Japan because they were very particular about food manufacturing processes. This made me push for higher standards in the factory,” says Su.

And the maintenance of the hygiene factor is something that Su has heavily invested in. The floors in all three factories are dirt-and-crack proof, being made up of costly ucrete for which the standing space of one person costs RM8 to lay.

Workers are required to wear face masks, gloves and shoe covers in areas where they are exposed to the biscuits and everywhere you turn, there is someone washing his hands. Workers are not allowed to wear perfume and even the slightest suspicion of a cough or sniffle will see an immediate transfer to a department free of biscuit exposure.

But what was beyond Su’s control was the melamine contamination crisis that took a terrible toll on his business and caused his factory to close down in October last year.

At that time, Su was attending a retreat in Kuantan when he noticed three missed calls from his elder brother, his wife and a director. “I knew that this was not a good sign so I took a taxi back to Alor Gajah (where the main Julie’s factory is located) and sent all the products for testing. Three days later, we found out that the raising agent from our Chinese supplier was contaminated with melamine.”

The company suffered more than RM10 million in losses due to a ban on Julie’s products late last year.

Su’s eldest son, Sai Seak Chyuan, was by his father’s side during those trying months when the factory was ordered to cease all production by the health authorities.

He recalls that the house practically became a command post as his parents battled frantically to save Julie’s.

“What I did was to stand back and evaluate the situation. There is this Chinese saying: ‘As long as you can remain alive, you should not fear the journey ahead’ and that is the outlook I adopted,” shares Su.

When dealing with stress, he has this simple advice. “If you feel that you cannot go on, go home and take a nap. When you wake up refreshed, your mind will be clearer.”

Now that things have cleared up and Julie’s is once again on the shelves, Su is definitely breathing easier.

According to Lee Soon, her husband is back to his two favourite past times, karaoke and reading; Chinese classics like The Tale Of The Three Kingdoms and Sun Tzu’s Art Of War have become his favourites. He also has a new venture in a restaurant called Geographer Café in Malacca’s famous Jonker Street.

Otherwise, this health food advocate who insists on serving organically-grown coconuts at his café can be seen tucking into a meal of hearty Nyonya fare at Aunty Lee’s, a restaurant in Ujong Pasir run by a husband and wife team. Su claims the place has the best assam fish in Malacca.

To look at the story in The Star, click on this link:

Published in The Star on Sunday July 12, 2009.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Golden Girl at Zoo Negara

While most seniors would prefer a less active lifestyle, Patricia Zahara Ariffin, 71, is out and about, living her life to the fullest.

Nature lover: Patricia is well-known at Zoo Negara for her hand and face paintings. All proceeds from her work go to the zoo for the animals’ upkeep.

VISITORS of the National Zoo will not fail to notice Patricia Zahara Ariffin while waiting to take the train ride at the starting point.

There she’ll be, with an entire forearm stretched out to show off the various animals she has painted on her skin. Get your face painted, this sprightly 71-year-old will try to convince the children. Won’t it be cute to have a little dolphin on your hand, she’ll suggest.

Sometimes, she’d be mobbed, surrounded by those eager to have her “masterpieces” on their skins. Sometimes, she strikes a solitary figure under her large umbrella with her tubes of water-based paints and brushes.

Patricia is no Picasso. At best, the art critic may describe her depictions of owls, eagles, tigers and fishes as “cute”. Nothing more. Of course, this is not a big deal to the English native who came here after marriage to a Malaysian in the 1950s. After all, she only ventured into face-and-hand painting in March when the Malaysian Nature Society needed something novel to attract the crowd for its Raptor Watch week in Tanjung Tuan, Melaka.

But what keeps Patricia stationed at the train ride come rain or shine most Saturdays, is the fact that her paintings bring joy to those who will wear it.

“It’s not so much the money,” insisted the former headmistress who revealed that all proceeds are given to the zoo for the animals’ upkeep.

“I have seen some of the children jumping up and down after getting their face painted and that gives me the most satisfaction,” she said.

Patricia brushing on more smiles on little Levene Chan.

Despite her brief jaunt as a body artist, Patricia never tires of telling about the awkward moments she has experienced.

“Some people have slippery skin which makes it very hard for the paint to stick so you have to apply thicker layers. Another problem is hairiness which makes it impossible for any work to be done,” she said.

“Unless they shave, there is no way the paint would stick. One guy proposed that I do a painting on his neck which was about the only spot that didn’t have hair,” she laughed.

Patricia was once a TV personality who had her own show, Focus, which made its debut in 1965. Back then, there was no such thing as editing, and if one made a mistake, there was no choice but to start all over again. Recalling her days as a talk show host, Patricia recalled the taping sessions in a small, sound proof studio in Jalan Ampang where space constraints meant that they had to open an office door so that one of the subjects she was interviewing could do a flying kick.

Listening to her stories would make it seem like Patricia has never known sorrow. On the contrary, after losing her husband, the late Jamil Ariffin, to bone cancer four years ago, she spent the last three years of her life grieving.

But something in Patricia jolted her to her senses to make her realise that this was not the way to live. And she later joined the MNS.

Ten-year-old Vinosha Nair displays a tiger painted on by Patricia.

“Being old does not mean that you should give up an active life. If you are not going to use your faculties you will lose them and many old people lose their flexibility this way. The best remedy for a backache is to go walking,” she pointed out.

Patricia belongs to three groups in MNS. She goes bird watching, looks out for frogs, snakes and other reptiles and has followed the marine group for a snorkelling trip in Tioman. She also supports the World Wildlife Fund For Nature and has been to Terengganu and Melaka to patrol parts of beaches which have been gazetted as turtle sanctuaries.

Patricia, who is asthmatic and uses an artificial hip, is also a volunteer with the National Association of Strokees of Malaysia and in her own words, “being old helps” as the stroke patients are encouraged when they see her at their physiotherapy class.

Meanwhile, the golden girl who goes line dancing to keep fit, has already planned to visit India to see the Taj Mahal.

“I want to see the monument of love before it crumbles,” she said.

To contact Patricia, e-mail her at