Monday, August 10, 2009

Artworks that speak volumes

World of auto art: Yap at work.

FOR those who see their rides as an extension of their personalities, Yap Bu Kiyang’s air brush illustrations are likely to speak volumes about their owners.

Having found a partner in his trusty air gun in 1990, Yap eschewed the traditional canvas in favour of bonnets, engine covers, helmets and motorbike gas tanks in 2000 and found a new legion of fans in the world of motor heads.

Yap, 43, a former art lecturer who used to run a duck noodles stall in Sungai Besar (north of Kuala Selangor), revealed that it was serendipity that had initiated his debut into the world of auto art.

The father of two had just given up his noodle stall and was working at re-establishing his artistic career in Kuala Lumpur when a former student came to him and asked if he could do some airbrush illustrations on some display bonnets in his father’s garage.

Yap complied and to his surprise, his illustrations of Kabuki characters, animals, scary monsters and cartoons had attracted the attention of a Japanese automobile company which in turn sent two of their representatives to train with Yap for six months.

But Yap reckoned that his biggest break had been in 2004 when Debetz, a car audio company, gave him a free hand to work on a Toyota Supra.

“I jumped into it without even negotiating payment terms because I knew this was going to be my demo car as well as the audio company’s,” said Yap whose charges are RM2,000 and upwards for car airbrush works.

After two months, the cheetah theme that he had chosen was considered “too fierce” for on road use and was transported via truck to make its rounds at the auto and saloon shows as the owners did not want to risk scratches on the paint work.

“There are no rules to state that one cannot have airbrush illustrations on a vehicle but the saloon community practices a code of self censorship. For me, I am against nudity and offensive images,” said Yap.

Standing out: Yap’s Pink Lady on a Kenari and Robot Surfer on a Toyota Vios.

Crucially, Yap stresses that air gun positioning techniques and a through knowledge of auto paint work will play a part in preserving a completed image.

“What you want is a well laid primer so that if anything goes wrong with the illustration, it can be wiped off without damaging the under layer. Unlike water-based paints, car paints have to be diluted with an acid solution,” said Yap who works with 2K auto paint and protects his works with a 2K clear coating.

Yap said the detailing of the airbrush drawings were done freehand. To produce accurate images with correct proportions, stencils were made from prepared retouched visuals.

“The retouching is mainly to ‘correct’ a selected part so that the details, such as the fingers or physical adornments can be seen clearly,” said Yap.

Speaking of inspiration, this Morib native revealed that his works were largely about fulfilling client compliance.

As well as Jolly Rogers, Grim Reapers and fanged predators, he is equally at home with angels and dolphins.

“The first thing is to assess what the client wants before starting work. To ensure that there are no unpleasant surprises, all visuals are presented on paper for final approval before the paints are applied on the selected spot. Delivery time of course depends on design and complexity,” said Yap.

BK Airbrushing, 57, Jalan PJS 11/9, Bandar Sunway, 46150, Subang Jaya, Selangor. Tel/Fax: 03-56369989. Open from 10am to 8pm. For details, visit

Published in The Star, Saturday, 1 Aug, 2009.

Happy days are here again

‘Tis the season to be feasting on the king of fruits.

YOU either love it or hate it; there’s no middle ground where the durian is concerned. And if you do love it, you’d do anything to have it, including making abrupt stops in the middle of nowhere or risking being fined for illegal parking at the roadside that just happened to have a durian stall nearby.

There was a time when there was a distinct season for durians, but these days it seems you can get them the whole year round. Nevertheless, there are still times when they seem to be everywhere, woe to those who hate getting even the slightest whiff of them.

Know your durians: The Tracka durian has a visible gap in the heart of the fruit.

For durian lovers, however, happy days are here again as there are now so many places to get them, and at affordable prices too.

In Petaling Jaya, Selangor, those who cannot get enough of this spiky fruit’s flavourful, creamy pulp should head for the durian stalls along SS2/65 for the “Eat All You Can” durian feasts there.

Look out for Cheah Kim Wai, 29, or Durian Wai as he is popularly known, who was in the thick of action 11 years ago when he first set up stall in the area and the idea of an unlimited durian feast was mooted.

The move was originally an attempt by the durian sellers to dispel misconceptions that durians were expensive, he said.

Over the years, the “Eat All You Can” campaign worked to promote sales but it was halted for some time due to the El Nino weather phenomenon that resulted in a durian shortage in the early 2000s. This would last till 2005 and then with better yields, Cheah and his fellow traders restarted their promotions.

The Raja Kunyit has rich yellow, thick creamy flesh.

For as little as RM9 per head, diners are given a free-flow supply of kampong durians and those who are willing to pay a bit more can opt for the RM15 package for the D24 variety.

Complementary salt water is provided for detoxification purposes and fresh coconut water and mangosteens are also sold on the side. Diners can also count on comfortable seating and one of the advantages of dining-in is the convenience of being able to exchange a below par fruit for a better one on the spot.

Diners also do not have to worry about selecting the right fruit as Cheah is at hand to do this.

Surprisingly, diner feedback revealed that while the “Eat All You Can” offer is a definite draw; many customers have returned to eschew the promotional offer for the premium varieties.

At Cheah’s stall, for example, there are no fewer than 12 types of durians on the menu and each one has a different character and flavour. The Tracka durian, for example, is recognisable by the visible gap in the heart of the fruit and its deep yellow coloured pulp, which has a sweet yet slightly bitter taste.

Then there are the sweet but small seeded varieties, like the Jiuji and D96; and for those who relish a luxurious mouthful, there is the Raja Kunyit and the Udang Merah, which has a slight tinge of red in its rich yellow pulp. Another rare but popular choice is the XO, named for its pale, bitter flesh.

Singaporean Kwa Hwee Leng, 60, who has been satisfying his yearly durian cravings at Cheah’s stall for the past five years opined that the “Eat All You Can” package lost its appeal after the durian vendor introduced him to the XO and Raja Kunyit, the most expensive variety at RM25 per kilo.

The Raja Kunyit, in addition to the Tracka durian, seems to be the most popular choice among diners. Alexa Cheah, nine, and her sister, Ashley, seven, certainly prefer the Raja Kunyit durian over the other varieties.

Cheah, a father of two, advised that very young children should best be introduced to durians with a “wetter” textured flesh like the D24, D101 and D2. With the Raja Kunyit and Tracka, the dense creamy texture of their pulps can be hard for a small child to swallow, he explained.

“There is an order to durian appreciation. First, warm up the taste buds with a mild flavoured durian like the D24. Only then can you progress to something stronger like the XO or Raja Kunyit so that you can appreciate the nuances of each variety fully,” advised Cheah who has been selling durians since he was 19.

Through experience, Cheah said, he has observed that the real durian connoisseurs often prefer varieties that have distinct bottom notes of bitterness, like the pale creamy-fleshed Tawa variety, which is becoming rarer by the day.

“Connoisseurs insist that it is the bitterness which brings out the fragrance of the durian,” he said.

As for the potent dangers of durian overconsumption, Cheah said that he has yet to witness any untoward incident at his stall.

“Moderation is the key. In general, if you overeat, then you are going to feel very uncomfortable and the same applies when it comes to a durian feast,” he said.

However, he advises caution for diners with diabetes and high blood pressure as the sugar content in durians is very high.

Consuming durians with alcohol is also not advised. This comes from Cheah’s personal observation after watching the chemical reaction of a durian pulp that had been plopped into a glass of whiskey. “The glass became so hot that it cracked. Imagine the same effect in the human stomach,” he said.

Nevertheless, Cheah’s presence in SS2 and the numerous other durian vendors throughout the country is testimony to the fact that the durian is in demand, never mind that eating it can make one sweat.

Now, for those who are gluttons for durians but don’t know which one to choose from the piles of the fruit at their feet, bear in mind this tip from Cheah.

“If you have to choose your own fruit, remember that a durian should first be light. And when you shake the fruit, you should hear a muted rattling. Lastly, give it a good sniff and if the aroma pleases you, then it’s a good durian,” he said.

Wai Durian Stall is at Jalan SS2/65, Petaling Jaya, Selangor (behind police station and BHP petrol kiosk). Tel: 012-234 5619. Open from noon to midnight.

Published in The Star, Sunday, Aug 2, 2009.

Spot on, spot off

A mother-and-daughter team carries on the business of a mole removal centre that has been in operation since 1941.

WITH a beatific smile, Fong Kim Far, 65, looks into a client’s face and inspects a mole beside her left nostril. The fortune teller’s voice is soft, soothing and honey-coated with a melodious lilt.

“There are more bad moles than good ones,” she informs her young client who seems to be hanging on to her every word.

Giving pointers: Janet using the head of a mannequin to show the relation of moles to one’s fortune.
That mole in particular, explains Kim Far carefully, might bring misfortune in the form of a watery accident. The best recourse is to remove it. And even if one does not believe in things like luck and fate, perhaps she may consider its removal as a beautifying measure? After all, a spotless face is always prettier, reasons Kim Far.

At last vanity triumphs and the owner of the inauspicious mole agrees to get rid of the troubled spot. She seats herself on a barber’s chair and one of Kim Far’s assistants proceeds to nudge the mole with a thin stick which is coated with a poultice at its sharpened tip.

Kim Far and her daughter, Janet Lee, 37, are the owners of Lee Sin Sang. The mole removal centre is a 67-year-old business passed down by Kim Far’s late husband, Lee Zhao Yang, who started the concern from a small stall in the Petaling Street area in 1941.

As proof, Kim Far asks her daughter to bring out an old tatty signboard with crude, handwritten Chinese characters and English wordings. There is a deep gash in the middle, no thanks to a vandal’s handiwork.

But unlike the tatty signboard, the mole removing techniques of Lee Sin Sang have survived six generations.

Long practised: Kim Far showing the traditional method of mole removal on a model.
According to Kim Far, mole removals date back 2000 years in Chinese history where face fortune tellers have studied the positions of moles in relation to the an individual’s destiny.

To them, these are an indication of ill health, weakness in character and future mishaps.

“In general, the Chinese have an aversion to anything that is black and for them ridding a mole is likened to avoiding or lightening the impact of whatever bad luck that may come their way,” she explains.

On the topic of fortune-telling related to moles on the face, Kim Far says that good moles are the ones in between the eyebrows, above it and inside the ear. The first and second positions represent good luck and wealth, while the third is a sign of wisdom.

Bad moles such as one above the eyelid represents family conflict and loss of possessions.

Moles on and at the edge of the nose are also regarded as indications of financial difficulties and ill health.

Having a dark spot beside the mouth is also a bad sign as it is a forewarning of food-linked ailments.

The most dreaded moles are the ones located below the eye, as they bear a resemblance to teardrops.

These moles are believed to cause its owner much anxiety and sorrow. Generally, women with teardrop moles will bring their husbands bad luck. Men who have these moles fare no better as they will be prone to disasters.

So would it be right to say that mole removal is the answer to one’s problems?

“It doesn’t mean that once a bad mole is removed, one will not get sick or be spared of life’s trials and tribulations. There is still the need to exercise caution and be mindful of one’s health,” affirms Kim Far, laughing softly.

Janet, who had grown up with the business, recalls that her late father, a learned man who was well-versed in Chinese texts and a keen artist whose favourite subjects were flowers, had been a respected figure in the community because of his position.

Still, Kim Far maintains that if there were no basis whatsoever to the study of moles and what they represent, her late husband’s business would not have survived till the present day.

In addition to being known in the Klang Valley, some of Lee Sin Sang’s customers come from as far as India, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Holland, Singapore, Thailand and Australia.

As for the mole removing procedures practised at Lee Sin Sang, Kim Far describes the procedure as painless, and one which only affects the epidermis without harming the dermis. As such, there is no shedding of blood.

“When removing a mole, care is taken to ensure that the roots are also extracted. If not they will re-grow. Here, all the moles are removed by hand because we believe that lasers leave the skin vulnerable to scarring,” maintains Kim Far.

The ointments used in the procedures are also homebrewed from Chinese herbs, secret recipes passed down from Kim Far’s mother.

Lee Sin Sang is at 63B, 2nd Floor, Jalan Sultan, Kuala Lumpur. 03-20318868.

Published in The Star, Sunday. Jan 6, 2008.